Guest commentary by Rebecca Vincent, UK Bureau Director, Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has returned to Malta this week to mark two years since the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and renew calls for justice. After half a dozen previous trips of RSF representatives to Malta since the immediate aftermath of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder two years ago, it is difficult to believe that still so little tangible progress has been made towards achieving justice, despite a periodic flurry of activity – or speculation about possible developments – around key dates.
The Maltese government certainly has a knack for taking action just prior to critical deadlines. On 16 July, Attorney General Peter Grech finally filed the bill of indictment against the three murder suspects just 20 days before the 20-month deadline that could have seen them released on bail. The accused have been detained since their arrest on 4 December 2017; however, it remains unclear when their trial will start, and no apparent progress been made towards identifying anyone else involved in the planning or carrying out of the attack, including the masterminds.
In a similar vein, on 20 September, the Maltese government finally announced it would establish a public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination just six days prior to the three-month deadline that had been set by a resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 26 June. Yet there are serious concerns about both the terms of reference and the composition of the Board of Inquiry, as noted by the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in a declaration on 30 September. Without addressing these concerns, the inquiry would lack independence and impartiality, rendering it ineffective as a step towards justice.
RSF has partnered with The Shift News to explore in detail the circumstances surrounding Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination, the flawed investigation that followed, the international reaction to date, and the next steps urgently needed to ensure full justice is carried out without further delay. On 15 October we will launch a new report, Justice Delayed: The Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Malta’s Deteriorating Press Freedom Climate, at a press conference in Valletta.
But continued impunity for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination is not the only issue that keeps RSF returning to Malta. This week we also return in solidarity with The Shift News, whose founder, Caroline Muscat, has been subjected to attacks by Maltese government officials which have escalated since she was awarded RSF’s Press Freedom Prize for Independence last month. We condemn these attacks and call on the Maltese authorities to cease this unacceptable pressure on one of the only remaining independent media outlets in the country. Muscat is one of very few journalists who continue to pursue public interest investigative reporting in Malta, and deserves our support and protection.
Unbelievably, in the midst of this all, hearings also continue in the vexatious defamation lawsuits that continue to be pursued posthumously against Daphne Caruana Galizia, serving as a constant form of pressure against her grieving family. Today I will attend court to monitor proceedings in the cases brought by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat against Daphne and her son Matthew, as well as cases brought against Daphne by the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri, and former Central Bank Deputy Governor Alfred Mifsud.
As I have often remarked, we have not seen the pursuit of posthumous defamation lawsuits against assassinated journalists in other countries, and certainly not by the very officials who claim to be working towards justice. We echo the call of Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović for these lawsuits to be dropped and the legal provisions repealed which allow such suits to be passed on to heirs.
Another aspect of this case that we have not witnessed in other countries is the continued destruction of the Valletta protest memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia, which has now taken place hundreds of times under government orders. We will be returning to the memorial again this week in solidarity with the local activists who continue to rebuild it, and will continue to document the removal of our own materials from the site.
RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and I will address these crucial issues directly with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Foreign Minister Carmelo Abela, Minister for Justice Owen Bonnici, and Attorney General Peter Grech. We will call for renewed efforts for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia – including through immediately establishing a truly independent and impartial public inquiry in line with PACE’s requirements. We will call for an end to efforts to continue to smear Daphne Caruana Galizia, including the posthumous defamation lawsuits and the destruction of the protest memorial. We will call for an end to attacks on independent media, including The Shift News, and concrete steps to improve the broader climate for media freedom in the country.
We will also be joining local civil society for the Valletta demonstration on 16 October calling for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia – at which I will address the crowd – as our RSF colleagues gather for similar vigils in London, Brussels, Berlin, and Vienna.
RSF remains committed to the pursuit of justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia until every single person involved in every aspect of this attack is brought to full justice – including, crucially, the masterminds – and we will continue to return to Malta as long as it takes.