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From ‘civil rights champions’ to denying citizens the right to protest 

Every effort to quell peaceful protests is an affront to freedom and civil liberty

Justice Minister Owen Bonnici. Photo: EU2017EE

The right to protest is one of the cornerstones of liberty but recent events have shown that the Maltese government and many of its supporters think otherwise. 

Labour has gone from ‘champion of civil liberties’ to denying people the basic right to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs in Malta.

First we had the noisy but peaceful protest held by Moviment Graffitti and Kamp Emerġenza Ambjent at the Planning Authority before a meeting on yet another application for an ODZ petrol station.

Protesters were manhandled by a few overzealous police officers and many Labour supporters not only failed to understand why a group of protestors descended on the PA’s offices armed with drums and banners but they also argued that such protests are illegal.

According to some, the protest should not have been allowed to take place and the police were right to eject the activists forcefully from the PA’s offices while others stuck to the broken record of “where were you” under previous PN administrations.

I will not go into the record of Moviment Graffitti and individual activists as these speak for themselves.

However two things will never change. First, Moviment Graffitti was, is one of the few independent voices calling for social and environmental justice irrespective of who is in power. 

Secondly, whoever is in power will ridicule, harass and come down on protestors like a tonne of bricks, abusing their power and denying citizens the most basic right to protest.

Peaceful protest is a fundamental right but Justice Minister Owen Bonnici seems to think otherwise. The infantile justice minister has been playing hide and seek with activists by ordering government workers to clear the memorial for assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia opposite the courthouse in Valletta. Every time the memorial is reinstated, Bonnici sends in his troops to do his dirty work.  

In what is an unacceptable suppression of freedom of expression, Bonnici has inadvertently strengthened the resolve of activists calling for justice by foolishly trying to outsmart them. His latest brainwave was to board up the Great Siege monument but it never crossed his mind that this would provide activists with a blank canvas. After playing ping pong with activists he came up with another genial idea. “Let’s put up a banner of our own” he must have told his subjects.  

Bonnici’s pigheadedness may earn him the plaudits from his voters but he is digging his own grave and that of democracy. 

For over the centuries, protests have inspired positive social change and paved the way for the introduction of human rights, voting rights, labour rights and much more. 

Protests and direct actions encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry and strengthen representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs. 

Bonnici and his masters in Castille might view the protests against the destruction of our environment and quality of life as an inconvenience. The Labour regime certainly views the perseverance of activists calling for justice in Caruana Galizia’s murder case as a threat to it’s reputation and democratic credentials.   

But as human rights NGO Aditus said in a statement, government’s “actions 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.”

Sadly, many conveniently forget that denying citizens the right to protest was one of the reasons why democracy in Malta was in a comatose state in the 80s. 

Many forget that one of the reasons why Malta joined the EU was to ensure that the systematic suppression of human rights experienced under Labour governments led by Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici would never repeat itself. 

Yet, the Labour government’s actions seem to worry nobody but a few activists. Sadly those who previously chained themselves to Castille’s gates in protest are now chained to power. 

Indeed, Caruana Galizia’s resent towards Labour was partly motivated by the attack she suffered at the hands of Labour thugs during an environmental protest in Valletta organised by Zgħazagħ Għall-Ambjent.

And in denying another generation of activists the right to protest, Labour is only fuelling more resentment and anger among the few who put human rights and freedom above partisan politics and personal gain. 

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