Watch: Prayer is a human right, self-proclaimed patriots told during protest

'Any religion other than Catholicism should be limited to one place of worship in all of Malta'

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

A small counter-protest greeted the 50 or so anti-immigration demonstrators who gathered in Bugibba today in protest against a proposed Muslim prayer room.

The Moviment Patrijotti Maltin protesters were met by three young people quietly holding signs declaring prayer a human right, and condemning the hatred being sown by the self-proclaimed patriots.

“It’s just provocation,” Alex Caruana, one of the counter-protesters, said. “When is the last time there’s been a fight between Christians and Muslims in Malta?”

A strong police presence prevented any clashes, but the counter-protesters’ presence appeared to rile the larger group. Some ‘patriots’ yelled insults and demanded they prove their nationality, while organisation official Stephen Florian squared up to one of the activists aggressively.

The confrontation took places at the fringes of a typically heated corner meeting, as group officials reiterated their opposition to a proposal by the Malta Muslim Council to convert a basement-level shop into a prayer room.

The protest was denounced by the St Paul’s Bay local council earlier this week. Mayor Graziella Galea described the gathering as “extreme” despite the council having filed its own objection to the prayer room.

Mr Florian, one of several speakers at the protest, insisted that any religion other than Catholicism should be limited to one place of worship in all of Malta, adding that if the Corradino mosque was too small, as has been stated by the Muslim community, the solution was to demolish it and build a larger mosque in Ta’ Qali.

He also criticised the decision of St Albert the Great College in Valletta to offer its facilities to Muslim worshippers. The Dominican community responsible for the school said this week the arguments against the prayer room had been uniquely targeted at Muslims, who should be guaranteed the same right to pray as any other religious group.

Mr Florian responded by accusing the Dominican order of several historical slights dating back hundreds of years, and insinuating the gesture was part of a wider ploy to be granted land for a new school in Ghaxaq.

As in previous protests, speakers continually hurled insults at members of the press, calling them “traitors” and, in one instance, singling them out by name for further abuse from the crowd.

As the gathering wound down, one Moroccan woman, a mother of two who has lived in Malta for 20 years, found herself in the midst of the protesters. Residents pushed her forward to explain the social problems Bugibba was facing, but she told the Times of Malta the protesters made her uncomfortable.

“It’s true that this area has a lot of problems; most times I don’t feel safe letting my daughter run around,” she said. “But you can’t blame everything on Muslims. We’ve never had any problems with the Maltese as long as I’ve been here.”