Thousands of people took to the streets of Valletta to call on the Prime Minister to immediately step down from his position in light of the political crisis that developed over the past days, that led to businessman Yorgen Fenech being charged with complicity in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and former chief-of-staff Keith Schembri no longer being considered to be a person of interest by the police.
In one of the most tumultuous weeks in Malta’s history, people rallied in growing numbers in Valletta almost every day as Schembri arrested and then released, Fenech arrested, released on police bail then arraigned, and rumours that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat would resign after it was alleged Fenech named him in connection with Caruana Galizia’s murder, tensions were running high as calls for him to resign rang out through the crowd.
Protestors held up signs saying “you betrayed your own people”, “mafia”, and “you killed a journalist to stay out of jail”.
The crowds also shouted “go now” and “out” in Maltese, whilst hitting pots and cans and honking air horns. They waved Maltese and European Union flags, holding up photos of Caruana Galizia as €5000 notes fluttered through the air with the face of Muscat, Konrad Mizzi, and Keith Schembri – a nod to the kickbacks from the Electrogas deal.
These events – especially today’s – were covered by an increasing number of foreign journalists from leading international publications, all keen to catch a glimpse of Maltese civil society in action.
Fenech was arraigned yesterday on charges of complicity to murder, promoting or financing a criminal organisation, and conspiracy to commit a crime. He pleaded not guilty to the charges but did not request for bail.
After being questioned in connection to the assassination, Cardona ‘suspended’ himself, but was today reinstated as minister and deputy leader of the Labour Party. Schembri walked free after being arrested and questioned in connection with Caruana Galizia’s murder and despite reports that Fenech had named him as complicit, and involved in the plot.
The vast crowd of protesters marched through the center of the city, past Parliament and towards the law courts to the makeshift memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia. There, a number of speakers took to the stage to express their outrage about not only her assassination over two years ago, but about the impunity that has reigned since and the events of the last two weeks.
One of the speakers, student Eve Borg Bonello told the crowd that she thought Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was a thief responsible for the greatest injustice in the history of Malta.
“He is a thief because he took Daphne from us. They killed her to try and cover up the truth, you tried to obstruct justice and ruined my country’s reputation,” she said, her voice resonating with anger.
“For how long will you hide your blood-stained hands? I am ashamed to be Maltese because of you” she asked a crowd that roared in agreement.
Rachel Williams from Occupy Justice thanked journalists and The Shift for their hard work in exposing the truth over the last two years. She added that “resignations are not enough” and started chanting “jail” at which point the entire crowd joined her.
Alessandra Dee Crespo, also from Occupy Justice then took to the stage to call those implicated in corruption, “assassins” and “members of a corrupt cabal”. She too called for the resignation and prosecution of all of those involved, reminding the government that “this crowd will grow and grow until there is justice for Daphne.”
Mark Anthony Sammut pointed out that it had been a week since top government officials were implicated in a political assassination. Each day that Muscat stayed on, the risk increased that the evidence would disappear, he said.
Raising his voice above the cheers and chants, he continued; “If MPs don’t feel safe now, how can we citizens and investigative journalists feel safe? It is clear that those who come too close to the truth at Castille, are eliminated.”
He called on Labour Party MPs Chris Fearne, Ian Borg, Miriam Dalli, Julia Farrugia Portelli and others to stand up against Muscat, Cardona, Schembri, and Mizzi adding “Six years of attacking us in public- traitors and liars they called us. We now want action and every day you back them, you are complicit.”
After the speeches, the crowd moved to Castille where they shouted out “get out” while others moved towards the War Memorial roundabout in Floriana, blocking all traffic entering or exiting Valletta.
In a video message following the protest, Muscat announced his resignation but said he would stay in office until 12 January, ignoring calls made for his immediate resignation. Opposition Leader Adrian Delia said every day that Muscat stayed on was another day where justice would not be served.
Caruana Galizia’s family reacted immediately, saying in a statement: “Until he resigns, we will use all legal remedies to ensure Muscat has no further involvement in the investigation and criminal proceedings, other than as a possible suspect.”
Repubblika also reacted immediately, saying Muscat must leave immediately and he must be investigated.