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‘Nobody decided’ to turn Great Siege Monument into tribute for slain journalist, court hears

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Mr. Justice Joseph Zammit Mc Keon has heard lawyer and PN MP Karol Aquilina testify that an OPM official had been apprehended by police after clearing items from a makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Aquilina took the witness stand in a Constitutional case filed by activist Manuel Delia against Justice and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici and Ramon Deguara, Director General of the Cleansing Department over the repeated removal of the memorial.

The lawyer said that he was one of the first to place candles and flowers at the foot of the Great Siege monument. The site had been chosen because it was directly in front of the law courts, he said.
On March 20 last year, he had gone to buy candles and placed them at the foot of the monument. The next day he went to court and checked whether they were still there but they had been taken away. He had reported the theft to the police.

During the night between the 21st and 22nd of March, he said, the police had spotted people taking items away and had chased and apprehended them. “One is Nigel Vella, a company director and Labour supporter, and the other is Chris Galea, the Head of Government Events at the OPM.”

The police did not follow up the case after this, said the lawyer.

Afterwards, Aquilina was asked to be present for a protest by a group of activists, just in case a lawyer was needed. They had hung a banner, calling for justice, on the barricades outside the monument. In the afternoon he was informed that government workers were taking the items away. A journalist had spotted them and filmed the government workers, before filing a report at the police station.

Deguara later called Aquilina up. He informed him that he had ordered the department staff to return the items to Manuel Delia. After their return, the activist had once again placed the items at the foot of the monument at around 5pm.

At 5.17pm Ramon Deguara had called Aquilina again, saying he was very sorry about what happened and was “following orders he had received from Owen Bonnici personally.”

After that incident, Deguara had started depositing the items in court.

“I had bumped into Owen Bonnici and informed him that it was totally unacceptable,” Aquilina said.

He had filed other police reports but nothing had happened, he said.

Also testifying today was Newsbook.com.mt journalist Christoph Schwaiger, who told the judge about an incident on 15 September in which he was accosted by a government official whilst filming workers as they removed candles from the site.

“A man who identified himself as a senior technical officer approached me and asked me why I was filming. He said I can’t film as it was a danger to his workers. He called the police but I carried on doing my work. He then grabbed my hand and I could not continue to carry out my work. Luckily the situation was solved without violence,” said the young reporter.

An Occupy Justice activist also took the stand this afternoon. Anne Demarco told the judge that she had been visiting the site twice a day to place photos, candles and flowers since late September to replenish the ones taken away.  

“We’d place the photo on the pedestal, not the monument proper, and plant flowers in the soil in front of it. There was a bay tree that was removed.” Signs relating to DCG’s life and death were also put up, she said.

“It is a big protest…that a journalist is killed is shocking and horrifying. When it happened I didn’t know what to do. I went to the vigil that same day.” She said she had met Caruana Galizia on one occasion. “The fact that she was killed in that way and that nobody took political responsibility and although arrests were made the case is still in its preliminary stages.

She was acting together with others, she said. “We felt that we had to take a stand and not let this thing be forgotten.”

The Judge asked who had chosen the Great Siege memorial and why.

“Nobody decided. When the murder happened schoolchildren… placed flowers there. [The site is] ideally placed in front of court, but it occurred spontaneously.”

She denied being given the task by Manuel Delia, saying she did it out of her own free will.

“Delia is not a part of Occupy Justice but is among the people who is sympathetic with the group’s intentions,” she explained.

Under cross-examination, she clarified that the group had “no structure or juridical personality” said the witness. “We are a pressure group made up of women…we try to keep her memory alive.”

Earlier in the sitting, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Joseph Magro told the court that no requests had been received, in relation to the case, for restoration or cleaning works on the monument. This would normally only happen if structural damage or intensive cleaning was involved, he said.

The case continues on February 7.

Lawyers Therese Commodini Cachia, Jason Azzopardi and Eve Borg Costanzi appeared for Delia.

Lawyer Victoria Buttigieg appeared on behalf of the AG. Lawyer Chris Cilia is appearing for Ramon Deguara.

 

Original article found on The Malta Independent

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