Equality minister Owen Bonnici said he felt “genuinely sorry” for having “hurt people” by ordering the clearing of the makeshift memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in front of the Great Siege monument in Valletta.

It is the first time the minister has apologised for his decision, which climaxed in a January 2020 constitutional court ruling that found protestors’ human rights had been breached repeatedly due to his numerous orders to clear the memorial.

“I regret hurting people. That is something I regret, and I’m aware that by my actions, I might have hurt people. And I’m genuinely sorry for hurting anyone,” he told Times of Malta in an interview. “In my defence, I did it in order to keep the calm in our country because, let me remind people, the decision to remove the flowers was taken a year after the murder. So, for a whole year, the memorial was left untouched.”

In my defence, I did it in order to keep the calm in our country

For several months, activists were incensed to find that the flowers, candles and tributes they had placed at the foot of the memorial had been cleared by government employees, often at the dead of night. It emerged the decision came from Bonnici, then justice minister.

Bonnici said he took the decision based on “what happens in other countries”, adding he was concerned some were “going near the memorial and taking the law into their hands".

"I was genuinely worried that something bad would happen on both sides. And I took a decision to clear the monument at night so during the day people were free to put flowers and messages so that they were still allowed to express their views. But after the day, I would clear the memorial as a sort of compromise between the two poles. But I’m aware that I might have hurt people and I’m sorry if I hurt them.”

Activists had repeatedly called for Bonnici’s resignation over what they said were attempts to stifle freedom of expression.

Following the court ruling, Bonnici defended his decision to clear the memorial by saying it was to ensure the historical Great Siege monument was properly maintained.

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