The crucial need for a truly independent and impartial public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, echoing calls made by Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt, has been highlighted in a comprehensive joint report authored by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and The Shift News.
This inquiry “must be established without further delay”, a step that will require greater political pressure from international organisations such as the Council of Europe, as well as countries with strong bilateral relations with Malta, including the United Kingdom, the report pointed out.
Titled Justice Delayed: The Assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and Malta’s Deteriorating Press Freedom Climate, the findings of the report were presented in a press conference today, to coincide with events marking two years since Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Speakers included the RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir.
Désir was scheduled to have a meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat but was informed this morning that it was cancelled.
In his comments, Deloire pointed out that the Maltese government needed an ambitious programme to improve the situation of press freedom in Malta and the murder of Caruana Galizia highlighted systematic failures.
However, the attacks against the media still go on, he added.
He criticised the campaign to clear away the protest shrine to Caruana Galizia and said it was shocking that, two years after her death, there was still impunity. “A lot hinges on the public inquiry” – of which the OSCE shared the concerns of the PACE committee.
The OSCE, together with other media freedom NGOs, will issue a joint statement with the United Nations and the Council of Europe calling for justice for Caruana Galizia’s death, Desir said in the press conference.
“Daphne has become a symbol of courage…we want this case to be an example of justice,” he said.
He stressed the need for the inquiry to be “truly independent” as the investigation into her death was about protecting the public’s right to know the truth. It was also paramount to the safety of journalists and press freedom that impunity ended.
Rebecca Vincent, RSF UK Bureau Director stressed the need for the Maltese authorities to drop all the libel suits against Caruana Galizia still being pursued by top government officials two years after the journalist’s death.
Vincent monitored a number of these court hearings on Monday including libel suits filed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat against Caruana Galizia and her son Matthew and by the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and former Central Bank Deputy Governor Alfred Mifsud. The cases of Muscat and Schembri – neither of whom appeared in court – were postponed until December 9 while Mifsud gave a brief testimony and the next hearing was set for January 20.
“The fact that hearings in these vexatious defamation suits are taking place on the very eve of the anniversary of her assassination is an outrage. Rather than continuing to use these lawsuits to pressure her grieving family, the Prime Minister and other officials should drop these lawsuits and refocus their efforts on the true pursuit of justice for Caruana Galizia,” Vincent said.
During her life, Caruana Galizia was facing 48 libel suits by various government officials and ministers – 26 of these still continue against her posthumously.
Vincent pointed out that the report highlighted attacks on independent media, particularly The Shift and said that RSF “stands in solidarity with The Shift and Caroline Muscat”. She also called on the Maltese government to stop attacking Omzigt and abide by the recommendations issued by the Council of Europe.
Similarly, Maria Ordzhonikidze of the Justice for Journalists said journalists were the last beacon of truth and honesty and the foundation was proud to lend its voice to courageous journalists pursuing truth. The corrupt launched a war against free speech and democratic values and “we stand in solidarity with all those demanding justice for Daphne”.
The report lays out the circumstances that led to Caruana Galizia’s death and gives a clear timeline of the events that happened in the days, weeks and months that followed, and the action – or lack of it – taken in the investigation into her death. It also highlights the reaction from the international community and freedom of expression NGOs, and the report lists the “next steps urgently needed to ensure full justice is carried out without further delay”.
The authorities must “immediately address” the concerns raised by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the report states. Two weeks ago, the PACE committee expressed concern on the terms of reference of the inquiry set up by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the members of the Board appointed.
Désir pointed out that he has been asking the Maltese authorities to ensure for a “full, transparent and independent investigation” to identify those behind Caruana Galizia’s assassination, saying he would be raising the issue in meetings with the government.
“No stone must be left unturned in the investigation until the people behind this murder face justice,” Désir said. “There can be no mercy for those responsible for the assassination of the journalist. We need the investigation to yield results.”
The report called on the international community to show full support for Omtzigt who was pushing to ensure the independence and impartiality of the public inquiry while putting pressure on the Maltese government to full comply with recommendations of the PACE resolution to ensure that the whole truth emerges without further delay.
The Maltese authorities should implement the recommendations of international bodies such as the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission and GRECO on the rule of law and democratic checks and balances in Malta, the report states.
The international community also had to increase pressure on the Maltese government to fulfil these recommendations and “to bring policy and practices into compliance with Council of Europe guidance on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors”.
The report calls for a separate independent inquiry to look into the issue of journalists’ safety and Malta’s media environment.
The speakers called on the government to lift orders to clear the protest memorial to Caruana Galizia at the Great Siege Monument in Valletta and to allow people to lay flowers and candles without the fear of having these removed hours later.
There should be an “effective and transparent criminal investigation” into her murder that followed all lines of inquiry – including the possibility of State awareness or involvement – and identified all those involved in every aspect of the attack, including the masterminds, the report states.
Public officials also had to hold themselves to a higher standard of scrutiny and “refrain from taking punitive and retaliatory action against journalists and media outlets, including online”. Those who did so should face “immediate and effective disciplinary procedures,” the organisations said.
The report details efforts towards justice by the authorities in Malta over the last two years including flaws in the ongoing police investigation and magisterial inquiry that further point to the need for an independent and impartial public inquiry.
It also delved into the state of the local media climate, highlighting how Caruana Galizia’s assassination “contributed to an already hostile environment for independent journalism in Malta, where most of the media are directly owned and controlled by political parties”.
The State broadcaster is so” heavily biased towards the government that major corruption stories often go unreported” while the independent media are becoming increasingly dependent on government-funded advertising, leading to control of information and an emphasis on pro-government agendas.
“Investigative reporting is lacking, with only a handful of journalists continuing to pursue the kind of public interest investigative reporting that Caruana Galizia had carried out,” the report states.
Two years after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the current climate for journalism and broader press freedom in Malta “remains dire, and continues to deteriorate”, the report said while pointing out that Malta’s ranking in the RSF World Press Freedom Index has fallen by 30 places since 2017