World News

Malta court condemns minister for clearing journalist memorial

VALLETTA (Reuters) - Malta’s constitutional court ruled on Thursday that former justice minister Owen Bonnici had violated freedom of expression when he repeatedly ordered government workers to clean away a makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

FILE PHOTO: Malta's Justice Minister Owen Bonnici talks to the media outside the Parliament in Valletta, Malta, December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The memorial, which included photos, candles and flowers, was set up opposite the law courts at the foot of a monument that marked Malta’s victory over invading Ottoman Turks in 1565.

Anti-corruption journalist Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in October 2017 and the small memorial to her sprung up almost immediately beneath the city-center monument.

Blogger Manuel Delia, who brought the case to court, said government workers had cleared the memorial more than 20 times, throwing away the various mementos into the bin.

The Court ordered the government to pay Delia 1,000 euros ($1,110) in compensation and to return the “stolen” material. It said Bonnici should pay legal expenses. He made no immediate comment about the ruling.

Bonnici moved from the justice to the education ministry earlier this month. In his previous role he was also responsible for local government, including public cleaning. He argued that the makeshift memorial risked damaging the original monument.

Delia said he should resign from the government for having turned the memorial into a divisive site.

“Owen Bonnici did this when he was minister for justice whose first duty is to safeguard everyone’s fundamental human right. He did the opposite,” Delia wrote on his blog. “Bonnici’s position as a government minister is entirely untenable.”

Malta’s new prime minister, Robert Abela, said last week he had ordered that the memorial be now left untouched.

The previous prime minister, Jospeh Muscat, stood down after acknowledging that mistakes had been made during the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s killing. A businessman with alleged links to government officials was charged in December with complicity in the murder.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna, Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alexandra Hudson