To mark World Press Freedom Day last month, PEN and other international organisations sought to focus their attention once more on the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. A prominent investigative journalist and blogger, Caruana Galizia was assassinated on 16 October last year after leaving her home in Bidnija, Malta, in a targeted car bomb attack. Caruana Galizia had worked tirelessly to expose government corruption. She reported extensively on the Panama Papers, which revealed the offshore activities of powerful officials and companies around the world. Her blog, Running Commentary, which included investigative reports on the activities of Maltese politicians, was one of the most frequently visited websites in Malta.
PEN is concerned that the inquiry into her murder does not meet the standards of independence, impartiality and effectiveness required under international human rights law. PEN claims that some of the individuals Caruana Galizia wrote about on her blog are effectively in charge of securing justice in her case, notwithstanding a judicial challenge launched by her family in Malta’s constitutional court. After international lobbying by a number of media freedom organisations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has agreed to send a special rapporteur to scrutinise the investigation.
On 16 April this year, six months after Caruana Galizia’s murder, PEN International published an open letter to the European Commission reiterating its call for justice. It was signed by over 250 writers, including Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Neil Gaiman, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Philippe Sands and Colm Tóibín. The letter pointed to the ‘repeated and aggressive destruction’ of the unofficial memorial to the journalist created by members of the public, which the Maltese authorities have made no attempt to protect. It also raised concerns about the behaviour of those responsible for Valletta 2018: European Capital of Culture. Jason Micallef, chairman of the Valletta 2018 Foundation, it noted, has ‘repeatedly and publicly attacked and ridiculed the late Caruana Galizia on social media’, while also ordering the taking down of banners demanding justice and calling for the memorial to her to be removed. PEN believes that his actions ‘prevent an effective and impartial investigation into her death’.
Kurt Farrugia, head of communications for the government of Malta, responded to PEN’s letter in The Guardian on 25 April. He wrote:
We do not deny that Caruana Galizia was frequently at odds with the government of Malta, and individuals within the government were targets of her blog; she had deep political animosity towards the Labour party. Many of her allegations were false and defamatory, resulting in libel actions from people seeking proper legal redress. Had the government been the only target of her attacks, it might be possible to understand the speculation of government involvement – however alien to the values and commitments of this administration. But the targets for her stories were numerous, including criminals with a known propensity for violence.
PEN is seriously disturbed about ongoing reprisals against those seeking justice in Caruana Galizia’s case. Senior officials within the office of the Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, recently implied that her son Matthew Caruana Galizia, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, colluded with her killers. Muscat is pursuing a libel case against Matthew and is compelling him to return to Malta to stand trial. Independent security experts have advised him to remain outside the country due to the substantial threat to his life there. The Maltese foreign minister, Carmelo Abela, referred to Caruana Galizia’s case as a ‘fuss’. Senior government officials, including Muscat, are insisting that thirty-four outstanding libel cases against Caruana Galizia, now being borne by her estate, be tried.
The Shift News, an independent media outlet, has continued to report on a number of the stories Caruana Galizia investigated. The organisation is currently being threatened with a ‘financially crippling’ strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) by the Jersey-based firm Henley & Partners. The company oversees a scheme that offers clients the opportunity to gain Maltese – and therefore European Union – citizenship. Henley & Partners threatened legal action against The Shift News unless it removed from its website an article about the alleged involvement of the company, which denies any wrongdoing, in a passports-for-cash scandal in Grenada. The Shift News refused and instead published the letter it received from Henley & Partners. According to Caruana Galizia’s son Paul, ‘SLAPP lawsuits are designed to remove the truth from circulation by making it too expensive to assert. Malta’s political and business elite used them extensively against my mother … who always stood her ground but, as an independent journalist, paid a heavy price in terms of stress, time wasted and money spent on her own defence.’
Martina Urso, a civil-society activist from the anti-corruption group Il-Kenniesa who has campaigned for justice for Caruana Galizia, has been subjected to a spate of misogynistic abuse, including from members of the Maltese administration and Mario Philip Azzopardi, artistic director of Valletta 2018. Following her participation in a protest in London on 20 April, Urso received hundreds of online threats. Her home address and a photograph of her ID card were leaked via Facebook and shared online.
Readers may like to send appeals urging the Maltese authorities to ensure a full, independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia so that all individuals involved are brought to justice, including those who ordered the assassination; seeking assurances that the authorities will do everything in their power to protect journalists and human rights defenders in Malta; and calling on the authorities to support independent monitoring of the legal proceedings in Malta concerning the assassination and the thirty-four libel actions being pursued against Daphne Caruana Galizia’s estate.
Appeals to be addressed to:
His Excellency Norman Hamilton
Malta High Commission,
Malta House, 36–38 Piccadilly, London W1J 0LE
Hon Dr Owen Bonnici
Ministry for Justice, Culture and Local Government
30 Old Treasury Street, Valletta VLT 1410, Malta