The Constitutional Court today charged Owen Bonnici with using the Great Siege Memorial “as an instrument of division”. This is especially significant and needs specific remarks.
Owen Bonnici’s arguments in his own defence in his case were that the memorial needed to be restored and cleaned up every day because of the damage he alleged was happening to the memorial as a result of our protest. The court said it did not believe these “excuses” and said Owen Bonnici had no other cause to issue his orders but to suppress protesters’ freedom of speech.
But there was another argument thrown into the mix in this case. You will recall that former Labour Deputy Leader Joe Brincat intervened in this case to argue that his (and many other people’s) emotional attachment to the memorial itself meant that our protest was depriving him (and others like him) of their right to enjoy the memorial.
The court then decided to actually go into the merits of the meaning of the memorial and summed it up succinctly: the memorial is an honour to Maltese people of all times.
Implicitly, the court recognised that demanding justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia — a Maltese victim of the circumstances and the people that killed her — is entirely appropriate at the memorial where other Maltese victims of the circumstances and the people that killed them are honoured for their courage, their faith and their love of country.
What the court was explicit about was that using the significance of the memorial as an excuse to have our protest removed is in and of itself abusive and amounts to transforming a symbol of national unity into an instrument of division.
This really puts in their place all those who argue we should stop protesting because it’s better to be united. The court found that it was not protesters that were creating disunity by protesting. It was Owen Bonnici that was creating disunity by suppressing the protest.
This opens up the argument to another important dimension of this issue. Only a government (or in this case a government minister) can be found to have breached fundamental human rights. That’s how rights work. They are inherent to individuals but they can only be denied by a state.
Therefore when Joe ‘Laburist’ Citizen comes to remove our protest or to insult us or assault us for doing it, they may be breaching laws on public order or on physical assault but no individual can be found to have broken some other individual’s fundamental rights.
But there’s an obligation for the state that goes beyond not breaching rights. They must protect rights and they must always act in a way that does not create the example on others that might convince Joe ‘Laburist’ Citizen that they’re actually doing the right thing when they’re doing what after all the government has been doing every night for 500 nights and vandalise the protest site.
This bad example that Owen Bonnici has given is just the division the court is speaking of here. We are a divided country because of him and because of the government he is part of.
Consider how One TV reported today’s decision. Read the headline. For anyone who is entirely reliant on One TV for information — which is a huge chunk of the population and certainly includes Joe ‘Laburist’ Citizen — they can go ahead and think that the court found against me today. That actually they’ll be justified in ripping away our protest now because — any reading of the One TV report will tell you that — the Court actually ordered us to quit protesting at the Great Siege Memorial.
Quoting a short extract from the decision while ignoring its main thrust allowing viewers to have the wrong impression about what the court actually decided is not just a bad journalistic service. It is a lie perpetrated by the state, for which One TV is an agent.
That lie — like Owen Bonnici’s lies that the memorial needed restoring or daily cleaning because of the protest and that this was anywhere near his obligations as a minister to do — is what the Court today said is the “excuse” to turn the memorial from a symbol of national unity into “an instrument of division”.
It’s but another reason to do away with political party TV stations. That’s a narrow view perhaps.
What we really should be doing away with is callous lying by people in politics and the herding of loyal party supporters pushed by their political idols to act as agents of a state that systematically and repeatedly crushes its opponents’ human rights.
Owen Bonnici an idol. Fancy that.