The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent, international press freedom advocacy organisation, has called on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to drop his libel lawsuit against murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In a letter sent to Muscat, CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon urged the Prime Minister to drop the lawsuit over the Egrant allegations, in which Caruana Galizia’s family are now the defendants.
Last year, Caruana Galizia published documents showing the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat, was the owner of Panama company Egrant that held a bank account at the shamed Pilatus Bank and received $1 million from Azerbaijan. Muscat has denied any wrongdoing and called this the “biggest lie in Malta’s political history.” A magisterial inquiry is ongoing.
CPJ’s letter comes after Caruana Galizia’s widower criticised government officials who have continued libel cases instituted against his wife.
Testifying in court on Thursday in a case brought against his wife by minister Konrad Mizzi, Peter Caruana Galizia said “Isn’t it enough that she died? Now you want the money too?”
In its appeal to Muscat, CPJ said “continuing to pursue the case both diminishes the credibility of your commitment to bringing Caruana Galizia’s killers to justice and places an unjust burden on the late journalist’s family.
“We ask that you withdraw your claim against Caruana Galizia and her family and that you urge other members of your government who continue to sue her family to do the same,” the letter said.
CPJ added that The Daphne Project – a collaborative investigation into Caruana Galizia’s work involving 18 newsrooms in 15 countries – “brings into sharp relief the significance of her work for Malta and her commitment to uncovering corruption in her homeland.”
The project, CPJ said, highlights the years of threats, attacks, and harassment Caruana Galizia faced in retaliation for her work, “many of which went unanswered and ultimately emboldened her killers.”
CPJ said that Muscat downplayed the project’s significance, referring to it as “stories that are being rehashed,” and made a veiled threat to those who “have been caught lying to smear Malta’s name,” during a recent interview with the Labour party’s radio station.
“This reaction to an international journalistic investigation is unbecoming of a European leader who says he is working to get justice for Caruana Galizia, just as The Daphne Project aims to do,” the letter said.
“Your denigrating response, coupled with your ongoing lawsuit against Daphne Caruana Galizia’s heirs fosters a tense atmosphere in Malta, one that has compelled the Caruana Galizia family to temporarily leave the island, fearing for their safety.
“As a personal affirmation of commitment to justice we call on you to drop your defamation case against the late journalist and her family.”