Heritage Minister José Herrera issued two direct orders in December and January to engage the services of a professional bodyguard at the height of the demonstrations and civil society protests calling for justice, accountability and respect for the rule of law.

The direct orders, listed in one of the Government Gazette editions published last week, were issued on December 16 and renewed on January 2.

The minister had a private security detail with him on a 24/7 basis, including outside his residence at night.

Herrera defended his decision when asked to explain the direct orders, saying he needed to protect himself as a government minister.

A spokesperson for Herrera confirmed the engagement of an around-the-clock personal security because of the “delicate period and particular circumstances” the country was going through at the time.

“The services were not contracted due to any specific threat directed to the minister but as a precautionary measure to ensure that the security of Dr José Herrera in his official capacity as government minister is handled in a professional manner and hence proactively avert any unwarranted situations which could arise,” the spokesperson said.

“The unpleasant circumstance of having personal protection at all places 24 hours a day ended once a new government was appointed and stability in the country was restored,” she added.

Civil society activists took to the streets of Valletta and Floriana in November, December and January, with people protesting over daily revelations in court about the alleged involvement, directly or indirectly, of the government top brass in the 2017 murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The protests began in the wake of revelations concerning the murder case and continued through to mid-December, and then on to January 5, after a brief stop over the Christmas and New Year period.

The largest protests, which were endorsed by a rainbow coalition of civil society organisations, saw thousands of people fill Valletta and demand the immediate resignation of then prime minister Joseph Muscat who had said he would resign in mid-January.

Many carried Maltese flags and chanted ‘Ġustizzja’ (justice), ‘Mafia’, ‘Barra’ (out), ‘Assassini’ (assassins), ‘Korrotti’ (corrupt) and ‘Daphne was right’.

Eventually, the protests also led to the resignations of former chief of staff Keith Schembri, of former energy minister Konrad Mizzi and of Chris Cardona, the ex-economy minister.

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