Protests calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat continued to shake the island on Tuesday as civil society activists moved their evening gathering from Freedom Square to outside the police headquarters in Floriana.
Organised by civil society groups Repubblika, Occupy Justice and Manuel Delia, the protesters demanded the police commissioner to investigate former chief-of-staff Keith Schembri and Muscat in relation to the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Hundreds of citizens stood outside the iron gates, chanting “arrest Keith Schembri” and “interrogate the prime minister” while holding placards that read “dictator”, “No unity without truth and justice”, and “RIP Maltese Democracy 1964 – 2019”.
Messages like “Get off your ass” were clearly directed at Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, and brought to mind similar protests on this spot in November 2017 which called for his dismissal and for the removal of the Attorney General after their repeated failures to investigate high profile cases of corruption.
Vicki Ann Cremona of Repubblika called on Cutajar to do his job, and reminded him of others connected to the inner circle who have not yet been held accountable. “Neville Gafa pocketed money, and this is a scandal that should send him to jail,” she said. “And Brian Tonna… what are you waiting for commissioner to bring these people to justice?”
“In Malta, things are not blue or red but good or bad,” she said. “Repubblika is trying to promote a culture of civil society that has the right to speak out about the rule of law”.
Joanna Agius of Occupy Justice echoed her calls. “We want justice so we can be proud to be Maltese,” she said. “For two years we have been calling for the resignation of Schembri, Mizzi, the police commissioner and the attorney general. The time has come for them to enjoy some time in jail. You could have stopped her murder when it was obvious that Schembri and Mizzi were guilty. Instead, you chose to protect them and she was killed. You are a disgrace. This is on your conscience.”
The gathering took place on a day of heightened tensions that saw a European Union delegation of MEPs meet with the Prime Minister to assess the ongoing unrest in Malta, and to find out exactly what’s happening with the Caruana Galizia murder investigation.
Delegation leader Sophie in ‘t Veld, spoke with the press after the meeting. “It is difficult to see how the credibility of his office can be upheld,” she said, referring to Muscat. “This is also about the trust of the European Union in the Maltese government and the head of the Maltese government, and we’ve made it very clear that there is a problem.”
The delegation went on to meet with Cutajar at the police headquarters in Floriana. When asked for her opinion on the release of Schembri, the Dutch MEP said, “It’s a concern that someone whose name pops up in so many different cases is free, that’s very difficult to explain to people.”
Earlier on Tuesday morning, the Times of Malta published a handwritten letter by middleman Melvin Theuma in which he alleged that Schembri and Yorgen Fenech, who has been charged with complicity in the murder of Caruana Galizia, had hired him and paid for the bomb. The letter, described by Theuma as “his insurance policy” against being killed by his accomplices, was found when investigators searched Fenech’s house.
As civil society demonstrations continued to gather strength, calls went out on social media urging Labour Party loyalists to stage demonstrations of their own outside the Hamrun headquarters. Muscat responded by urging people not to attend.
Social Policy Minister Michael Falzon stood up in parliament on Tuesday morning to accuse anti-Muscat protestors of inciting violence. “There were personally, Nationalist MPs, some of them even ex-MEPs who were leading the crowd, who were in contact with a drone flying over parliament, who were insulting personally and who are pushing the State to the limit,” he said.
But Falzon’s was not the most disturbing claim to come out of the House. In a clear misunderstanding of the role of the press, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici claimed that demonstrators were acting in an “orchestrated manner” according to a plan by The Times of Malta, The Shift, and Manuel Delia’s blog. Such views are bizarrely out of touch with the wave of anti-corruption protests that have swept the country, drawing support from all sides of the political spectrum.