The makeshift memorial to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has remained intact following the monthly vigil on Thursday night, suggesting a shift in the government’s approach as new Prime Minister Robert Abela takes over.
Dr Abela announced on Thursday he had already issued instructions for the makeshift memorial, at the foot of the Great Siege monument opposite the law courts, not to be cleared away.
Activists have described the decision to leave the memorial untouched as “a step in the right direction”.
Since the journalist was assassinated in October 2017, activists have repeatedly had to replace candles and flowers, placed there in her honour and as a call for justice, after these were cleared out nightly by government workers.
The decision to leave the monument untouched marks a clear departure from the actions of former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s government. He had been taken to court for breaching the right to freedom of expression after public workers were repeatedly caught, removing the objects.
It later also emerged that the government workers were following instructions coming directly from former Justice Minister Owen Bonnici.
Dr Bonnici would always insist that he had no problem with activists exercising their freedom of expression and that his issue was the damage he said was being caused to the monument as a result of the candles dripping wax.
The removal of the objects at the memorial had been criticised by NGOs, international journalists and freedom of speech activists.
Members of the European Parliament in Malta on fact-finding missions had also repeatedly called on the Muscat government to stop clearing the memorial.
A year after the murder, in September 2018, access to the monument was completely blocked off, with scaffolding and hoarding erected all around it. The government had said at the time this was done to carry out much-needed restoration works on the Great Siege monument.
The move had reignited controversy with activists calling the hoarding "cowardly" and accusing the government of trying to wipe Ms Caruana Galizia "out of our nation's collective memory".
'This fight has never been about our right to protest'
Contacted for a comment, activists from Occupy Justice told Times of Malta that the fact that the prime minister actually had to make a statement about giving clear orders for the protest site not to be cleared "is testament to the sorry state of affairs this country has been dragged down to over the past two years".
"On the other hand, this fight has never been about our right to protest. That is a basic human right, and we had that right whether the government attempted to suppress it or not. Which is why we should not be made to feel thankful to anyone for ‘allowing’ us to protest.
"This fight has always been about justice and an end to the impunity enjoyed by the people that assassinated Daphne Caruana Galizia. Let's see what Dr Abela will be doing about that."