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Disinformation Watch #18: Freedom, justice and Owen Bonnici’s empty words

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici. Photo: Arno Mikkor

Following Minister for Justice, Culture and Local Government Owen Bonnici’s “restoration” of the Great Siege monument, we take a look back at his use of disinformation to subvert our human rights.

Freedom of Assembly

European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) Article 11 means you have a right to take part in peaceful protests and demonstrations and to join with others to achieve a particular goal.

Bonnici-speak:After a maintenance intervention on the Great Siege monument from experts at Heritage Malta earlier this week, with immediate effect restoration works will be started on the lower parts of the monument”, Bonnici said, originally in Maltese, in a Facebook post a few hours of the Victory Day ceremony at the Great Siege Monument, restored by heritage organisation Din l-Art Ħelwa in 2010, where activists gather on the 16th of every month to call for justice for assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Bonnici had the square where people assemble cordoned off with police barriers and covered the monument with steel scaffolding, wooden boards, and debris netting.

Reality:  Newsbook reported on the same day that 1) no planning permit was submitted for the restoration works, 2) the authorities failed to provide the newsroom with a reference number of the permit covering the alleged restoration works, and 3) they failed to provide a copy of the restoration method statement. Following international outcry, Bonnici is now claiming that his action “is basically an issue of health and safety of the workers”.

On Saturday, Occupy Justice activists placed a banner with the word ‘ justice’ on the netting surrounding the walls blocking off the monument. Government workers removed the banner again soon after, removing also any lingering doubt that the barricade around the monument had anything to do with restoration – the government’s actions on Saturday showed it was the memory of Daphne they wanted removed.

The banner placed on the netting surrounding the Great Siege monument in Valletta. Photo: Occupy Justice / Facebook.

Blogger Manuel Delia filed a police report and the banner was put back up and guarded by activists overnight. Delia also asked the court to open out of hours to consider the request to order the government not to remove the protest memorial in Great Siege Square. It was filed with the help of lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Karol Aquilina, Eve Borg Costanzi and Therese Comodini Cachia as well 61 other lawyers.

During its removal, one of the workers tried to stop Newsbook journalist Christoph Schwaiger from filming the removal of the banner. The Public Service Department worker tried to cover the camera at least twice with his hand.

While all this was happening, Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela was happily tweeting about Democracy Day.

The activists hit back: “It is now extremely evident that our freedom of expression is being blatantly suppressed. We will not stand by and let this happen. We live in a democracy and it is our right to protest and our right to freely express our opinions. To the Justice Minister who is insisting that the monument has to be boarded up ‘for health and safety reasons’, we tell him: this has basically become an issue of health and safety of our democracy”.

Freedom of Expression

ECHR Article 10 means you have a right to hold and express opinions, to receive and share information and ideas, and to express opinions which others might find offensive or shocking.

Bonnici-speak: “I will not censor anyone for expressing his thoughts”, said the Justice Minister at a live press conference two months ago in Friesland, Europe’s twin capital for culture, where Bonnici was dispatched to defend V18 chairman Jason Micallef’s mocking of Caruana Galizia’s final words.

Reality: Bonnici was part of the now notorious email exchange between Christian Kälin of Henley & Partners, the Prime Minister (Joseph Muscat), his chief of staff (Keith Schembri), and the CEO of Malta’s sale of citizenship scheme (Jonathan Cardona) , in which the government officials and Kälin conspired to cripple Caruana Galizia with financially ruinous lawsuits in England and Wales in retaliation for her journalism.

Bonnici also voted down PN MP Jason Azzopardi’s Private Member Bill that called for anti-SLAPP legislation to stop media houses and journalists in Malta being threatened by vexatious and ruinous libel action in foreign jurisdictions. Bonnici claimed the Bill conflicted with EU law, a claim denied by European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourová.

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici addressing the live press conference held in Friesland in July. Photo: Omrop Fryslan / Leeuwarder Courant.

Justice

ECHR Article 6 means you are entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

Bonnici-speak: “Malta achieves the best results in the EU’s Justice Scoreboard”, announced Bonnici in a Facebook post four months ago upon the release of the European Commission’s 2018 Justice Scoreboard, which measures the independence, quality, and efficiency of EU member states’ national justice systems.

Reality: While Bonnici’s Facebook post ran a capitalised headline on a red banner that claims ‘Malta achieves the best results in the EU’s Justice Scoreboard’, his celebration rested on Malta’s performance in one of the Justice Scoreboard’s 36 main indicators. The rest of the indicators show fast deterioration of trust in the judiciary’s independence due to political interference, and some of the worst legal delays in the EU, particularly in money laundering cases.

The Right to Life

ECHR Article 2 means you have a right, where capital punishment doesn’t exist, not be killed by the state, for the State to protect your life, for the State to investigate your death if suspicious, and, if you’re at risk, for the State to take reasonable steps to prevent your death.

Bonnici-speak: At the same Friesland live press conference, Bonnici told journalists that the investigators working on Caruana Galizia’s assassination were being showered with praise, “even by the [Caruana Galizia] family”.

Reality: Caruana Galizia’s family filed a constitutional case against the government to have lead investigator and Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta, married to cabinet minister Justyne Caruana and subject to Caruana Galizia’s investigative work, taken off the investigation. The constitutional court ruled in June that Valletta must be pulled off the case and his role in it examined.

Judge Meli also severely reprimanded the government’s position in the case. The government is appealing.

Caruana Galizia’s family are now calling for a full public inquiry – composed of domestic and international retired judges – into the assassination that would ask whether Caruana Galizia’s death could have been prevented. Bonnici’s ministry replied with an “interim” response to the family’s call that accused them of deceit, being frustrated, and that mocked Caruana Galizia’s website.

We take this opportunity to remind Bonnici of the first Article in the European Convention on Human Rights: the State has an obligation to respect our human rights.

(Note: A vigil will be held at the Great Siege monument on Sunday 16 September at 7pm to mark 11 months since Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated).

Read more: Disinformation Watch

Merde alors!

The call for justice will not be silenced