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Malta: ‘A total lack of accountability’ – PEN

Jason Micallef at a Labour Party mass meeting in 2017. (Photo: Facebook)

An open letter by PEN International to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on the promotion of Jason Micallef, Chair of Valletta 2018.

Dear Prime Minister Muscat,

I write to you on behalf of PEN International to express our profound dismay at the promotion of Jason Micallef, Chair of Valletta 2018 to Chair the Valletta Cultural Agency.

During our meeting with you on 15 October 2018, PEN International raised our profound concerns about the vilification campaigns by authorities, including by members of the Office of the Prime Minister and the chair of Valletta 2018, against assassinated journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

We received assurances from you that the allegations would be seriously considered. However, rather than censuring Jason Micallef, we have now learned that the Maltese authorities have promoted him to oversee a key cultural agency.

We are profoundly disturbed by what appears to be a total lack of accountability from the Maltese authorities with regard to the extremely serious allegations made by PEN International and a wide range of leading international cultural actors.

We call on you to reconsider this promotion which sends a strong signal that the Maltese authorities are failing to uphold their obligations to protect freedom of expression and European values.

As you are aware, on 16 April, the six-month anniversary of the assassination of investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, PEN International and our membership, led by Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman and Elif Shafak wrote an open letter to the European Commission to protest the actions of Jason Micallef and to call for his resignation.

Since the assassination, Micallef had repeatedly and publicly attacked and ridiculed Daphne Caruana Galizia on social media, ordered the removal of banners calling for justice for her death and called for her temporary memorial to be cleared. We stressed that this is far from appropriate behaviour for an official designated to represent the European Capital of Culture, and in fact serves to further the interests of those trying to prevent an effective and impartial investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death.

European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, in his response to PEN’s letter stated that anyone representing a European Capital of Culture must ‘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’. He went on to say, ‘any statements made in this context that go against this spirit are highly regrettable and should, in the Commission’s view be avoided.’

Following PEN’s open letter, 72 Members of the European Parliament, and over 100 local artists followed suit in calling for the resignation of Jason Micallef. Leeuwarden, the twin European Capital of Culture, severed all ties with Valletta 2018.

The chairman of the jury that selected Valletta as Malta’s European Capital of Culture, Manfred Gaulhofer, criticised both Micallef and Artistic Director Mario Philip Azzopardi, saying that their behaviour is “absolutely incompatible with their function as representatives of Valletta as the European Capital of Culture 2018.” 

During our meeting with you on 15 October 2018, PEN International once again raised our profound concerns about the vilification campaigns by authorities, including by members of the Office of the Prime Minister and the chair of Valletta 2018, against Caruana Galizia, both before and after her death.

You stated, Prime Minister, on the record, that you had held previous serious conversations with Jason Micallef about his statements relating to Daphne Caruana Galizia, with which you stated you did not agree. You went on to say that you understood PEN’s protest and the outcry generated by Micallef’s behavior, that you would study the situation and that you would consider calling for his resignation as Chair of Valletta 2018.

We profoundly object to the decision to promote Jason Micallef to lead a permanent leading cultural agency in Malta. This decision appears completely at odds with the concerns you expressed during our meeting with you in October this year.

We remind you of Malta’s obligations as a European Member State to uphold European values of democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law and urge to reconsider this appointment.

Sincerely,

Carles Torner

Executive Director
PEN International

Keith Schembri + Joseph Muscat

No, Prime Minister – the law dictates otherwise

daphne caruana galizia

Further and final request for public inquiry