I am an 18-year-old student at University. On most days, I consider my generation to be fortunate enough to be able to get a free higher education of our choice. Yet, I never thought I’d be standing here having to defend our most basic fundamental human rights – starting with our right to freedom of expression.
I remember seeing a picture of Joseph Muscat paying respect to Raymond Caruana at his grave last week, which, I thought, sent a strong message to be people of Malta and Gozo: we must revere those who were murdered for expressing an opinion. It sent a message to the people saying: look, whatever your political beliefs are, this was wrong and we need to call for justice for Raymond Caruana. We cannot allow the type of political climate that enabled his murder to happen to engulf Malta and Gozo again. Now, just to make things clear, most democratic leaders would have done this, and while they might do this because they genuinely want to pay their respects, other leaders who might have not agreed with the victim would pay their respects for another crucial reason: a message to the people: a message of action saying what happened to this person is wrong, let’s condemn it together.
Joseph Muscat did not do that for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s targetted and carefully planned assassination. He did not think to call for justice was right, he did not shoulder any political responsibility whatsoever, he did not pay his respects to the journalist who paid the highest possible price for exposing corruption, for standing up to criminals. Joseph Muscat had that decision to make: to send the right message to the people through his actions and say: look, this is wrong, let’s all call for justice – and if we had to look at recent history it’s not difficult to make the distinction between those leaders who condemned a journalist’s assassination through actions and those who didn’t. The ones who don’t condemn it are the ones who shrug off the problem; the ones who remain silent or encourage the Minister of Justice Owen Bonnici to obstruct justice, the ones who remain silent when candles and flowers are removed for over 200 times, and the ones who remain silent while activists are assaulted when calling for justice.
The silence Joseph Muscat kept up while Daphne was threatened and harassed is what led to an environment where a journalist was able to be murdered with absolute impunity. This is how oppressive governments behave. Indeed, this Government even mimics countries like China and Russia in their campaigns against human rights – and if we ever want to live a real, full democracy, we can NEVER be okay with this behaviour.
When discussing the political situation of our country with most of my peers, many tell me that they would rather not know what is going on, because the situation is hopeless.
In fact, the situation would be utterly hopeless if it weren’t for civil society and journalists, particularly the journalists who form part of the Daphne Project, who continue to ask the tough questions in pursuit of truth and justice. We discuss how politics in Malta has become a playground for the corrupt, for organised crime, for criminals in Castille.
Because indeed, in Daphne’s own words, “A political party that is prepared to attack one journalist to achieve its own ends will think nothing of doing the same to others when they become inconvenient too.” This is the reality that we are now living in. Because right now, members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament, activists or indeed any citizen who dares to criticise this Government, and may I remind you all that we’re meant to be living in a so-called ‘full-democracy’, are attacked by this Government’s propaganda machine, dehumanised, framed, branded as ‘traitors’, beaten up or in the case of foreigners told to “go back to their country”.
Last week, Sarah Clarke, the Advocacy and Policy Manager of Pen International called out the Government’s attempt to whitewash its humans’ rights record when it was highlighting its non-existent commitments to freedom of speech. She was then verbally abused by Alessandro Mangion, the private secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carmelo Abela. He called her a “biased shithole”. To make a strong stand against this Government is to be in favour of freedom of speech and a full democracy. For, to make a strong stand against this Government in the name of truth, justice and freedom of speech is to be a “biased shithole”. For this Government does not have these principles embedded in its core, these principles are its enemy.
We want nothing more than to live in a normal democracy: where you are not mocked as being “depressed” or, in sexist terms, a “desperate housewife” for criticising your Government, where you can exercise your freedom of expression without fearing that you are going to lose your job, be sued unfairly, or have political parties, regardless of whether they occupy the Government or the Opposition, systematically lash out at you. We want to live in a country where the law is equal for everybody, where criminals like Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are not protected and endorsed by those in power, but where they are scrutinised and actually put on trial. We want to live in a country where political parties are not football teams, or worst still, religions – where political parties and the Government are accountable to us ordinary citizens, and not us to them. That is what it means to live in a real democracy. That is why we will keep fighting – not just for the rights of those present here tonight and the many, frightened thousands quietly watching at home. We are fighting for our fundamental human rights meaning the rights of every individual in Malta, yes, whether they ‘agree’ with us or not, whether they will assault us or not.
We are here to reject the new “normal” founded in the Golden Years of Joseph Muscat’s Government, where crook became a statesman, where flowers and candles became provocation, where free became oppressed, where murder became trivial, where right became wrong and where evil became good. We are proud to be the “biased shitholes” in the fight for human rights to be upheld in Malta. This is why we will not shut up. Because one life lost in this fight is one life too many.