PEN International called on the Maltese authorities to sanction “senior public officials” who openly threaten values of democracy, freedom of expression and rule of law – in a clear reference to Valletta 2018 chairman Jason Micallef.
The organisation welcomed the response of European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans to their open letter, which had been signed by more than 300 influential writers, publishers and PEN members and called for urgent progress in the investigation of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was murdered on October 16, 2017.
They had expressed concern about derogatory comments and inappropriate behaviour by Micallef who spoke out against plans to turn the makeshift memorial to Caruana Galizia, in front of the Great Siege Monument in Valletta, into something more permanent. Micallef has also called for the removal of banners in public areas on the day marking her assassination to be removed.
The European Commission’s letter directly addresses PEN International’s “ongoing profound concerns” relating to the independence, effectiveness and impartiality of the murder investigation into Caruana Galizia’ death. It also reiterated the Commission’s call to the Maltese authorities and institutions to deliver on “their clear commitment to do everything in their power to ensure that the perpetrators of the assassination and those who ordered it be brought to justice”.
PEN is a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries working to defend those whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk.
In his letter, issued on June 21, Timmermans said the Commission “cannot bear any responsibility for public statements by a national chair designated by the national authorities”, but strongly encouraged anyone representing a European Capital of Culture “to express him or herself in a manner that reflects the common values on which the EU is based” such as democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law. Any statements made in this context that go against this spirit are “highly regrettable and should, in the Commission’s view be avoided”.
Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, said there is still “impunity for this horrendous crime” eight months after her brutal assassination and there was no accountability for Mr Micallef whose “behaviour has been completely at odds with his role of safeguarding freedom of expression and culture”.
The organisation pointed out that Micallef’s comments raised a public outcry from the international community, including 73 MEPs, 100 Maltese artists, as well as the twin 2018 European Capital of Culture city, Leuuwarden, in the Netherlands.
In fact, the lack of relations between the two cities reached a point where a junior coalition partner in The Netherlands government called on the Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Stef Blok to intervene. The Dutch culture capital decided not to send any official representatives to Malta until V18 distanced itself from Mr Micallef’s “offensive tone”.
PEN International also welcomed the work of Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt who is preparing a report for the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe into the investigation of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. In his preliminary overview of the case, Omtzigt said her assassination was “planned and premeditated long in advance” and raised “many issues concerning the rule of law in Malta, the progress made in investigating the murder and the attitude and behaviour of certain senior public officials”.