Civil rights group Repubblika called for Education Minister Owen Bonnici’s resignation following a court ruling that found he had breached the fundamental right to expression, which was welcomed by international NGOs.
The ruling, which found Bonnici’s direct order to clear the candles and flowers from Daphne Caruana Galizia’s protest memorial, breached protesters’ right to freedom of expression, was highlighted on social media by Article 19, International Press Institute, Scottish PEN and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.
The international organisation described the ruling as an “important victory for freedom of expression and the right to protest”. The court’s ruling also made international headlines for “violating freedom of expression”.
This week, the country's constitutional court also said it was illegal. IPI welcomes this ruling.https://t.co/YIUu39ICih
— IPI (@globalfreemedia) January 31, 2020
During a press conference on Monday, members of Repubblika unveiled a cardboard statue of Bonnici in front of the Education Ministry, bearing a plaque that said he was “found guilty by the Constitutional Court of breaching human rights while being Justice Minister”.
The activists also questioned the tenability of his position as an education minister in light of the recent judgment.
“Prime Minister Robert Abela has now made (Bonnici) responsible for education,” they said. “How can we trust Bonnici with being in charge of our children’s education when the court has found him to have broken a fundamental human right repeatedly, day after day, for two years?”
They went on to say that if Bonnici did not step down, Abela should demand it.
In a strongly-worded judgment, Judge Joseph Zammit Mckeon said that the constant clearing of the items placed at the Great Siege monument in Valletta to mark the death of Caruana Galizia was nothing but a “pique” and “systematic method” of hindrance that should have never taken place.
In an interview with The Byline Times earlier this month, Bonnici said Abela was making changes in the country that were inspired by the criticism levelled at the government. He admitted that “some of the criticism” of Malta over the murder had been justified but that “we should have given even more information and been more forthcoming with the media”.
However, Bonnici still believes he should not step aside. In a Facebook post, Bonnici said the judgment showed that the country’s institutions worked in respect of rule of law and that the courts handed down decisions independently of the executive.
He pointed out that Abela had taken a decision about this specific case when he was appointed prime minister.
The constitutional case was filed by Manuel Delia after government employees were tasked with removing the candles, notes and flowers left at the Great Siege memorial in September 2018 following a direct order given by Bonnici
Delia had welcomed the judgment and called for the resignation of Bonnici, saying his position was untenable. “If we just stop with the judgment, we will be abandoning the clear need for political responsibility,” he said.
Asked for his reaction to the ruling, Abela said he did not think that there was any reason why Bonnici should resign. “Just because the court made a decision, which doesn’t agree with a minister, it does not mean that this results in a resignation,” he said. Abela reminded the media that he had “anticipated” the court’s ruling and had taken a decision not to clear the memorial before the court’s ruling was given.
Constitutional court declares government of #Malta breached human rights of activists by clearing the protest memorial for #DaphneCaruanaGalizia in Valletta every night. @maltatoday @repubblikaMT @occupyjusticema @Manwel_Delia https://t.co/As7RxFiyJr
— ECPMF (@ECPMF) January 30, 2020
Opposition Leader Adrian Delia said Bonnici’s behaviour and actions over a long period of time “instigated more division and hatred between the population”. He expected Abela to take “necessary action” and said an important sector such as education should be headed by an exemplary individual, he said.
Responding to Delia’s statement, Bonnici said that he would not be taking lessons from the Opposition Leader on how to work in an exemplary manner.
Anti-corruption group Occupy Justice also asked for Bonnici’s resignation. “You trampled on our rights for more than a year. You should hang your head in shame and hand in your resignation,” they wrote on Facebook.