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Caruana Galizia banner deposited in court after it was removed from memorial

Government puts up restoration banner instead

Updated 10.30am - A large banner showing Daphne Caruana Galizia was deposited in court on Wednesday after it was removed, for the third time, from the murdered journalist's memorial in Great Siege Square.

Government workers replaced the banner with another showing restoration works on the Great Siege Monument.

The banner was deposited by the director of the Department of Public Cleansing along with flowers and candles removed from the site, as part of evidence in a case instituted on Saturday by blogger and activist Manuel Delia against Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.

Mr Delia has requested the government to stop the government from clearing the Caruana Galizia memorial. 

It was the third time since Saturday that the Caruana Galizia banner had been removed, and the 20th time in 11 months that the memorial to the murdered journalist at the foot of the Great Siege Monument was cleared.

Mr Delia, who owns the Caruana Galizia banner, said the government's clear objective was to suppress protest.

The government first put up hoarding around the Great Siege monument claiming that urgent restoration works were needed, and no works happened there for weeks. Then they made it pretty, Mr Delia said.

"Their objective is and has been to suppress protest."

The excuse of health and safety was a lie because there were no works in progress. The 11-month excuse that it was not known who was clearing the memorial was also a lie because government employees were caught red-handed, he said.

"The government feels it won something today. It feels it has achieved its objective of displaying greater resources than protesters, using employees in the dead of night to clear out flowers and candles. In a similar case in Northern Ireland this week the police there described such an action as a hate crime, and that was not even state action. If you're asking me if I intend to continue resisting the suppression of the basic right to protest, the answer is a definite yes," Mr Delia told Times of Malta.

Mr Delia said he has filed a police report reporting the banner as missing, presumed stolen again by Public Cleansing employees.

"That's the third report since Saturday. I am waiting for a response from the police," he said. The police returned the banner to him on the previous occasions.    

The authorities had acted quickly to cover the Great Siege Monument with hoarding after a wreath-laying ceremony to mark Victory Day on September 8, with the Culture Minister citing the need for urgent restoration works.

But no works have yet been done.

Mr Delia, backed by 62 lawyers, on Saturday filed a request in court for an injunction to stop the government from removing the memorial again, but no decision was taken. 

The battle for this space will only get fiercer now

The battle for space at the Great Siege monument will get fiercer, anti-censorship campaigner Mark Camilleri warned.

Mr Camilleri, chairman of the National Book Council, argued that similar sites had served as political battlegrounds in the past, such as when a monument to Queen Victoria was repeatedly smeared with paint in the 1960s.

“Although I consider the thoughts and opinions of the bourgeoisie to be abhorrent, they have every right in a democracy to use the monument to remember Ms Caruana Galizia,” he said.

He said the government committed “a huge strategic error when it started removing flowers and candles because that has only galvanised the bourgeoisie”.

“The battle for this space will only get fiercer now,” he said.

Government 'duty to safeguard national monuments' 

When contacted, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said the government had the responsibility to safeguard national monuments as a cherished part of the country’s national heritage.

The Aditus Foundation, which promotes human rights, said the actions of the Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government in relation to the Daphne memorial were 'utterly shameful and reprehensible'.

"They represent an unequivocal repression of free and peaceful political and personal expression. These are fundamental human rights boldly enshrined in Malta’s Constitution and part of the human rights regime Malta so proudly subscribes to."

The foundation said the government’s, or the minister’s, opinions of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia should play absolutely no part in its relationship with a group of people who, on a regular basis, choose to gather in Valletta to express political opinions or to mourn Daphne Caruana Galizia.
 
The ministry’s justification for its actions – to safeguard national monuments – was unacceptable and a clear populist attempt at ignoring basic legal standards, especially since no damage to the Great Siege Monument was ever alleged or demonstrated.

It urged minister Owen Bonnici to immediately refrain from these undemocratic tactics and to simply allow the public and peaceful demonstration of opinions and views that he might not be comfortable with.

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