A coalition of five press freedom NGOs urged the Maltese government to accept and implement UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations made in relation to strengthening freedom of expression and protecting journalists in Malta.
After submitting a report outlining serious concerns relating to freedom of expression and press freedom in Malta in March 2018, the coalition welcomed the statements by many UN member states during the UPR who raised major concerns about the deterioration of freedom of expression in Malta the context of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and highlighted the inadequacies of the investigation into her killing by the Maltese authorities.
PEN International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the International Press Institute (IPI), and ARTICLE 19 said “the lack of progress in the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder is a truly disturbing indicator of impunity.”
The coalition, together with Maltese human rights organisation, Aditus Foundation, is deeply concerned that in its August 2018 national report submitted as part of the UPR on its own human rights record, the Maltese government failed to include any information on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in the section on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.
“This disturbing omission forms part of a pattern of behaviour by the Maltese authorities at international and national fora of intentionally ignoring and downplaying the importance of this case and its implications for press freedom in Malta.”
While noting that prominent subjects of Caruana Galizia’s reporting, who may bear responsibility for her death, have not been placed under formal investigation or questioned, the press freedom NGOs reiterated their call for a public inquiry into whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination could have been prevented.
“The public inquiry should have comprehensive and transparent terms of reference; ensure meaningful involvement of the deceased’s family; ensure the protection of sources; and include public hearings.”
Among the proposals put forward during the UPR, the coalition underlined Belgium’s recommendation that Malta prohibit the recognition of foreign defamation judgments to protect Maltese journalists from threats emanating or arising from Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits and libel tourism.
Switzerland also drew attention to the continuing issue of defamation suits, noting that at the time of her death, Caruana Galizia was facing 47 civil and criminal libel suits from senior members of government and business people affiliated with the authorities. In 30 of those cases, the plaintiffs have chosen to continue the suits against Caruana Galizia’s estate, effectively forcing her family to defend them.
The coalition also welcomed Germany’s recommendation that in order to ensure media pluralism in Malta, the rules for the appointment of members of Malta’s Public Broadcasting Authority, which supervises Malta’s national Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), should be revised in a manner which enhances independence.
On Wednesday, equality minister Helena Dalli faced a grilling as the UN’s highest human rights body – the Human Rights Council (HRC) – reviewed the country’s track record on human rights.