The 19th of March, for many of us Maltese, brings to mind the feast of St Joseph, even though unfortunately this year many are going to miss deeply the celebrations that we usually have in various parts of our island. The date itself shows that the episode I am referring to, happened barely a week after the end of the celebrations to mark the MLP victory in the general elections, with the famous slogan Malta tagħna lkoll.  For me and my husband, it was an important date because we got to know better Daphne Caruana Galizia and also because what we experienced with her, made us understand how exponents of the Labour Party could not stand the fact that she forcefully condemned their unacceptable behaviour and actions. Ergo, they persecuted her because they  already felt sure that they were going to be protected by impunity and get away with anything they do.

In the Running Commentary on 19 March 2013 at 8.49pm, Daphne Caruana Galizia used this title for her article on what happened that evening.

Malta Taghna Lkoll update: I am forced to take shelter in a Franciscan Convent with two friars guarding the door while people led by the Labour mayor of Zurrieq yell outside in the street, “Ohorguha minn hemm ghax issa ahna ghandna l-power!”

I was in Rabat with my husband for the village festa when we met a friend of ours who was with Daphne Caruana Galizia and we stopped to talk to them. She was taking some pictures when Ignatius Farrugia, the mayor of Żurrieq, appeared and started harassing her and behaving like a real fool. I prefer you read the words from the running commentary itself.

“So how did it all happen? Simple – one of my friends and I fell behind the rest of our group because I was taking pictures and moving more slowly. Ignatius Farrugia appeared out of the crowd and began dancing around me like a complete imbecile, waving his arms and shouting ‘Defni Defni! Malta taghna lkoll! Malta taghna lkoll!’, confirming me in my view that whoever voted for this ship of malicious fools is just as maliciously foolish as they are.”

We kept on walking together and she just turned once to Ignatius Farrugia and told him that she would have gone to the police if he continued pestering her. Although she ignored him, he and his “goons” continued following her and making it impossible for her to take any pictures. Ignatius Farrugia then signalled to 2 women whom he obviously knew very well and within seconds they started yelling at her to the delight of the Żurrieq mayor.  Daphne did not react to this verbal assault and so he took out his camera, barged his way into the four of us and he shoved his camera into her face. It was very clear that Ignatius Farrugia was going to continue harassing her.

“Given that the situation was getting threatening, and the mayor of Zurrieq showed no sign of letting up, I slipped into the open doorway of the Franciscan convent, with the help of the two friars who were standing outside. The couple who had been talking to my friend came with me, while my friend went for the police.

“The woman who was with me got angrier and angrier, saying that this was ridiculous, that we had ended up taking shelter in a convent because of the Labour politician rabble-rousing outside, and so much for Malta taghna lkoll, and we should go right back outside because this is a free country and we should be able to walk the streets without being harassed by Labour politicians, who should lead by example.”

That woman was me and I must admit that Daphne could not express in words the anger and disgust I felt during those terrible moments. That was the way that Labourites were putting in practice their slogan Malta tagħna lkoll: a person could not even go to a festa and take some pictures. I admired Daphne’s ability to keep calm and not show any reaction to the shameful attack that the mayor of Żurrieq had instigated. The friars quickly slammed the door shut and locked us in while people outside the convent were howling: Oħorġuha minn hemm lil Defni! Oħorġuha għax issa għandna l-power. I had the gut feeling that many of those howling outside did not even know that Daphne was in there and who was Daphne. Most probably they had never read anything of what Daphne used to write. However, they had been actively encouraged to hate her and consequently join in. Later the police arrived and Daphne Caruana Galizia filed a formal complaint against Ignatius Farrugia.

We are talking about a mayor, a politician elected in the name of the Labour Party, the governing party. What happened after that shameful experience is even more shocking, in my opinion.

Ignatius Farrugia was arraigned and my husband and I were called to testify since we had been both eyewitnesses. We went to court in September 2015 and explained how she had been repeatedly insulted, provoked and attacked during that evening. They called us again to the court a few months later and made us repeat our version of events. We had the feeling that they wanted to see if we would change any details. In fact, we were asked questions like: how many people were there? how many metres away were they?

Daphne Caruana Galizia won the case and Ignatius Farrugia was found guilty of harassment, fined €2,400 and ordered to stay away from her for a year. The mayor naturally appealed this judgement but the guilty verdict was confirmed by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti, who then erroneously converted the fine to effective jail time.

“A Labour-appointed judge sits in judgement over a Labour mayor who is defended by a Labour-appointed president of the Labour-constituted Law Reform Commission, who is also a consultant to the Labour Prime Minister.

“The judge hands down howler of a judgement which overturns the lower court’s decision that he should be fined 2,400 euros for harassing, in a public street, a critic of the Labour Party, but instead sends him to prison for four days for disturbing the public peace. He reads this judgement in open court, he gives it to the other party’s lawyer to read, it is broadcast on TVM and published by The Malta Independent.”

The judge realised his mistake only after he had read it out in open court. But this was not the end of the story at all. The judge, after having mistakenly jailed Ignatius Farrugia, did something unheard of in the history of Maltese law. Instead of telling the defence lawyer to follow procedure, challenge the judgement in the Constitutional Court and then petition the head of state through the proper channels for a pardon, it was the judge who directly petitioned the head of state directly. The then President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca consulted with the Minister of Justice Owen Bonnici (more commonly known as Minister of Injustice and Censorship, later found guilty of breaching the fundamental human rights of free expression) and Attorney General Peter Grech, and an agreement was instantaneously reached: the Labour mayor should be pardoned. Within a couple of hours, Ignatius Farrugia is out of prison. Daphne Caruana Galizia describes it as the speediest and most abusive pardon ever in the history of corruption and cronyism.

The proper procedures for a pardon were completely ignored, no documents were published and it seemed that it had all been conducted over the phone. I know about this shocking abuse of power because I was somehow involved, but I am also fully aware that this is not a one-off.

The grand finale of this episode: Ignatius Farrugia, after having been found guilty of harassment, did not pay the fine and did not spend one single day in prison. He obviously remained mayor of Żurrieq since no action was taken neither by the Labour Party nor by the Local Councils Association. This is how things worked and always work with a Labour government.

I feel it is better to end this post by quoting Daphne’s words:

“Here is what I think: that we have descended to the pits of ineptitude, abuse of power, trading in influence, cronyism and corruption.”