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It’s not freedom when you have no choice

The Great Siege monument opposite the law courts that served as a memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia was blocked off by government "for restoration".

Public land does not stop being public just because a wall is built around it and the police surround it with barriers. It does not matter whether the order came from the government, especially when it has failed to observe the laws it is tasked with ensuring are enforced in the country.

The government must observe those same laws that we are all obliged to observe. Getting elected does not bestow the privilege of kicking the law in the butt.

Nobody is fooled by the government’s claim that the monument – barricaded on the same day it was set up to commemorate, and a public holiday – needed immediate and urgent restoration. Newsbook was quick to note the necessary planning procedures had not been followed.

The fact of the matter is that the public has every right to access that monument.

Restricting freedom of movement and restricting freedom of expression is a breach of human rights law. Coating that move with claims of the urgent need to protect our national and cultural heritage – particularly, that monument, never mind the rest that’s going to shit – isn’t going to mask that reality.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi said in a Facebook post that “whoever removes those barriers will be acting within the law”. Yet lawyers who spoke to The Shift News said: “Removing them, other than just moving them slightly to allow access behind them, could involve at the least the contravention of Art. 340(d) of the Criminal Code”.

That section of the Criminal Code deals with “violation of another person’s property”.

Another lawyer pointed out section 338(ee) on disobeying an order, although the law specifies that the order has to be lawful and legitimate.

Effectively, the government has made it illegal to access a national monument in a public space. This is not in breach of laws if it is temporary and justified. But it is if there are ulterior motives behind the move.

It seems the timing, and the urgency, is no coincidence. The one-year anniversary of her assassination is weeks away, and the site has gathered citizens for a vigil on the 16th of every month since October.

Without an Opposition Leader calling people to the streets, as happened when political assassinations occurred in the past, the government must have felt pretty confident the calls for justice would not be sustained for too long – ‘give them a few months and they’ll get over it’.

But one factor this government consistently fails to understand is the power of principle. Joseph Muscat has no idea of how to deal with people who cannot be bought. He is forced to resort to the age-old, tried and tested tactics of intimidation, bullying, harassment and suppression.

The monument was blocked off after months of his MPs, political appointees and army of trolls saying it should be removed. These comments were inevitably followed by attacks on the memorial, but this failed to deter activists.

It was blocked off after those same activists were targeted for online mobbing in the Labour Party’s once-secret online network. The same space where Muscat fans celebrated the journalist’ death before the eyes of top government officials and MPs who remain members of these groups.

It was blocked off after the renewed attacks by those same people failed to silence the call for justice. The only purpose those statements served was to fuel the hatred for all those who refuse to bend to a corrupt society by calling out her name.

But the drooling masses waiting for their next pound of flesh fail to realise that this struggle goes beyond Daphne. This is not about the adoration of Daphne. Of course people miss her and her work, but they also realise that the moment they accept that anyone critical of the government can be killed then it is the end of all they know, and for which they fought.

This is not about whether you agreed with what Daphne wrote; it is about the fact that she was killed. The spectacular way in which she was killed was an announcement; it was a message to silence a country.

Statements on economic prosperity are supposed to offer some form of compensation (as long as we ignore and drown out news of families unable to cope with increases in rental prices and people sleeping in garages). It works with most. Yet material rewards, such as those in the form of a €40 – €50 cheque to households, will not make up for the loss of freedoms.

It isn’t freedom when you don’t have a choice.

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