Malta: Prime Minister refuses to commit to public inquiry on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination

By Emil Weber and ECPMF

A delegation of five press freedom organisations travelled to Malta to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and to call out the fact that little has been done to find those behind the killing. 

Malta mission: requesting a public inquriy into DAphne Caruana Galizia's assasination Media freedom campaigners meet Maltese government representatives (photo: ECPMF)

On Monday 15 October, 2018, on the eve of the anniversary of the murder, Flutura Kusari from European Centre for Press and Media Freedom together with representatives of Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Press Institute, PEN International, and Reporters Without Borders met with Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to ask him for an immediate public inquiry into whether her life could have been saved. 

In the meeting Prime Minister Muscat refused to commit to an immediate public inquiry, says ECPMF’s legal advisor Flutura Kusari.

“Prime Minister, will you commit today to immediately and unequivocally set up a public inquiry into whether Daphne’s assassination could have been prevented?”, it says in the joint statement. 

"It is not a matter of if but of when the public inquiry will take place’” […]  “The easiest thing would be to have a public inquiry, but it would prejudice the case [because of current criminal investigations], and we will not do that just to be media darlings. There have been other public inquiries which took place here which have been successful. But this case is different as it is first degree murder” Prime Minister Muscat said.

The delegation told the Prime Minister that the way Daphne Caruana Galizia was treated “is a disgrace” […]. “In the course of her 30 years as a journalist she received countless threats, her home was set on fire, her family dogs were killed, her face was plastered on derogatory billboards, she faced misogynistic attacks.” […]. “The threats and violence to which she was subjected were innumerable yet tolerated, and helped to create an environment in which she could be murdered with impunity”. 

According to the organisations, a makeshift memorial in central Valletta established as a sign of a peaceful protest against her assassination has by now been destroyed more than 20 times, including on the night after the mission put flowers and candles in solidarity on October 14. Prime Minister Muscat said they did not agree with the people who are removing those signs of solidarity. However, he said, they are open to an application (formal request) for a permanent memorial.   

Safety of journalists in Malta today

The international mission expressed fears for other journalists: "We are deeply concerned by the impact of Daphne’s assassination on journalists who continue to do public interest investigative reporting. They work in a climate of fear, and self-censorship has become widespread.

According to Ms. Kusari, Prime Minister Muscat replied that the government was not made aware of any journalist being at risk. Kusari quoted him saying, “If there are journalists who think they are at risk, we will protect them”. 

The criminal investigation so far

During the meeting the Prime Minister also expressed satisfaction with the work of the Maltese investigators on the Caruana Galizia murder case. The Valletta Magistrates Court has charged Vince Muscat, George Degiorgio and his brother Alfred Degiorgio for the murder. They have all been kept in jail since December 2017 despite several bail requests. In an on-going judicial investigation there have been 18 sessions so far, during which the court has heard evidence. The last one took place on Friday 12 October. 

According to legal observers of the investigation who talked to ECPMF, the triangulation of evidence concerning the three persons who are charged in connection to the killing and relating to the mobile phone that was used for detonating a bomb in Caruana Galizia’s car has been a most insightful discussion at the court so far. However, the defence has continually argued that the evidence should be refuted as there were no warrants at the time against the three. 

The international freedom of expression mission said on Monday that there has been no meaningful result in the investigation beyond identifying three suspected contract killers while those who ordered the assassination have yet to be identified and brought to justice.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was reporting on corruption involving high ranking public officials, including allegations against officials close to the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife.

Ongoing libel cases a ‘campaign of harassment’ 

Corinne Vella, Daphne’s sister, told ECPMF that there are 30 libel cases pending against the late journalist - even now, one year after her murder. According to the family most of the cases were initiated after the Labour Party came to power in 2013. The lawsuits have been filed by politicians, including the Prime Minister, political donors and individuals with connections to the government.

Mission member Scott Griffen, Director of Press Freedom Programmes at the International Press Institute (IPI), says it seems clear that many of these libel cases “were intended to silence Daphne Caruana Galizia and warn her and others against prying into certain issues”. […] “Unfortunately, and bizarrely, many of these cases have continued after death, with her family stepping into her role as defendant.”

In the meeting with Muscat the delegation called those lawsuits “a campaign of harassment against Daphne and her family”. ECPMF’S legal advisor Flutura Kusari added that in the meeting Prime Minister Muscat called it unfair that he would be “singled out in criticism of the lawsuit” […] I was her favourite target of criticism for over 15 years’”. 

Three court sessions on these libel cases were supposed to take place on October 15. But they were rescheduled when two witnesses failed to appear before the court. 

These cases “distract attention from what should be the primary objective of ending impunity,” says mission member Scott Griffen. “While everyone has the right to defend his or her reputation, to pursue a defamation claim against a deceased person is at the very least a poor option and, as many of the plaintiffs have connections to the state, raises further doubts about the Maltese state’s commitment to finding those who ordered Daphne’s killers.” 

“Freedom of expression deteriorated”

A coalition of several organisations led by PEN International has recently informed The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations that the freedom of expression in Malta is deteriorating.

We’re particularly concerned by impunity in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the continued threat and use of SLAPP lawsuits to silence media houses,

Sarah Clarke, international policy and advocacy manager at PEN International, told ECPMF. “We therefore urge states to recommend that Malta undertakes a public inquiry into the assassination and cease the implementation of financially ruinous foreign SLAPP suits”. SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation which target individuals speaking in the public interest with the aim of silencing and harassing them. Caruana Galizia and the Maltese media have been the subject of such lawsuits

UPR is scheduled to review Malta’s human rights record on November 14.

Earlier in October The Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe said it has “requested a Venice Commission opinion on Malta’s constitutional arrangements on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary and law enforcement bodies”.

What’s more, Pieter Omtzigt, the Council of Europe’s Special Rapporteur who is monitoring the ongoing murder investigation and examine the circumstances surrounding the Caruana Galizia’s death, has announced that he is travelling to Malta next week to meet the authorities, including the Attorney General. 

According to the 2018’s freedom of expression ranking index by Reporters Without Borders in 2018 Malta has dropped 18 places to rank 65, following Galizia’s murder and the campaigns against her.

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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –