‘Malta must uphold right to expression and assembly’

The removal of the protest memorial set up for murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in front of the law courts in Valletta had led to strong reactions from international press freedom organisations.

Tributes were removed on Friday in preparation for ceremonies scheduled for Victory Day on Tuesday, four days earlier than the planned events and while the public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s assassination was ongoing in the law courts facing the protest memorial.

The protest memorial for Caruana Galizia was removed almost daily by the authorities when Joseph Muscat was Prime Minister. His successor, Robert Abela had committed to the public that the memorial would not be touched again.

Sarah Clarke, Article 19 Head of Europea and Central Asia, said: “[It is] highly concerning to see the protest memorial calling for Justice for Daphne once again cleared by the Maltese government. The Maltese authorities must uphold the rights to expression and assembly, as per key ruling on the protest memorial”.

The Civil Court in its Constitutional Jurisdiction had found that the repeated forced removal of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s memorial in Valletta violated protesters’ rights to freedom of expression.

It found that the decision of former Minister of Justice, Owen Bonnici, to order the removal was arbitrary and had the purpose of restricting the protest.

Caruana Galizia’s sister, Corinne Vella, noted how the government cleared away a protest memorial so that it could celebrate Victory Day over fascism, “without being reminded of its failure to protect Daphne’s fundamental right to life and to free expression.”

The removal of the memorial comes at a time when Prime Minister Robert Abela took the controversial decision to give a one-time extension to the public inquiry looking into the journalist’s assassination being debated at the time of the memorial’s removal. The family of the journalist said that the Prime Minister should not interfere in the independent inquiry.

Special Rapporteur for the Council of Europe Pieter Omtzigt supported the family’s stand saying that this investigation is the only legal process that is casting public light on the circumstances surrounding the death the journalist.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) director Rebecca Vincent said it seems like the Maltese government does not want any reminders of impunity for an assassination to spoil their Victory Day celebrations.

“If you thought the Maltese authorities were done destroying the Valletta protest memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia under Robert Abela, think again.”

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