PEN International reaffirmed its “unwavering support” for the family of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in seeking justice for her murder and tackling use of libel law to silence writers.
The NGO issued a statement after English PEN said it was going to retain libel lawyer Anthony Julius as a trustee after the family of Caruana Galizia put pressure to cut ties with him and his firm, the libel specialist Mishcon de Reya.
Her sons had accused Mishcon of seeking to “cripple” the journalist financially, and called for Julius to step down from PEN, saying his presence on its board was causing “reputational damage”.
Shortly before her death, Caruana Galizia had received letters from Mishcon asking for some of her blogposts to be deleted. The journalist’s sons – Matthew, Andrew and Paul – had told The Guardian that legal threats to journalists like those experienced by their mother were “wholly inconsistent with English PEN’s principles”.
PEN International said it was committed to fighting against the silencing of writers, journalists and bloggers through the use of criminal and civil libel and defamation laws.
Salil Tripathi, Chair of the PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, emphasised that sometimes PEN Centres took positions that were “at variance with PEN ideals”.
Tripathi noted that the Caruana Galizia family asked English PEN not to be part of any campaign for justice for her. “English PEN has respected that decision. Other PEN centres, including PEN International remain committed to campaigning for justice for Daphne, and are working with the family.”
“Each PEN Centre has full autonomy and their respective boards take decisions based on local realities; the positions they take do not necessarily reflect PEN International’s positions, or those of other Centres,” Tripathi said.
PEN International is firmly committed to protecting writers from abuses – legal cases, intimidation, violent threats, violence, online attacks.
There are over 150 PEN Centres globally, each fully autonomous from the other and with independent governance and decision-making structures, operating based on local realities, PEN said.
Being a membership organisation with a global reach means that, at times, Centres may take positions that do not reflect PEN International’s or those of other Centres, the international organisation said.
PEN said it will be looking at how they can respond to new ways in which libel laws are being used to silence journalists.
“PEN International is firmly committed to protecting writers from abuses – legal cases, intimidation, violent threats, violence, online attacks. We defend free speech, the freedom to read and write. Our charter requires us to do so. In addition, for writers at risk or in jail, and for their families, PEN has always been a place of hope, shelter and solace,” Jennifer Clement, PEN International President, said.
Caruana Galizia was a brave journalist committed to uncovering the truth; she was threatened with violence and sued during her lifetime, and paid the ultimate price, the international organisation said.
“PEN Centres remain committed to campaigning to obtain justice for her murder and to defending her work and her legacy,” she added.
“This is a distressing moment, and we would like to reiterate PEN International’s firm commitment to the defence of the right to freedom of expression and of free media.”
Clement pointed out that there were more legal processes “chilling free speech” and PEN International was actively campaigning against this alongside their centres around the world. “We need to look deeply, as an organisation, at what more we can do to combat new threats and the potential conflicts of interest in relation to our governance”.