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Council of Europe issues alert on SLAPP threat against Malta media

press freedom

The Council of Europe’s platform for the protection of the free press has issued an alert on the SLAPP threat which Turab Musayev, the British-Azerbaijani national named in the Montenegro scandal, made against The Shift and four other news organisations in Malta.

The threat alert was filed by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Article 19 on the Council’s platform on Wednesday. The alert was submitted at Level 2, meaning that the threat made to journalists is serious and includes acts of intimidation including assault and harassment.

Alerts received by the Council of Europe free speech platform demand a reply from the government.

Turab Musayev was SOCAR Trading’s representative on the Board of Electrogas and was mentioned in the Montenegro wind farm deal with Enemalta.

Following the publication of articles on the scandal, Musayev sent letters to The Shift, The Malta Independent, Lovin Malta, Malta Today and Times of Malta, through London-based law firms threatening legal action.

A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) is a lawsuit filed in another country intended to financially cripple media organisations.

The Shift published the letter received in full, together with the response sent in which it was made clear that the attempt by Musayev to silence the press was unacceptable.

The Council of Europe free press platform currently has seven active alerts related to threats or attacks against journalists in Malta. Apart from the recent threat by Musayev, in 2020 the platform received another alert related to a Croatian businessman who requested €300,000 in damages from The Shift.

Previous alerts include the four libel suits filed by former Economy Minister Chris Cardona against journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was assassinated by a car bomb in Malta on 16 October 2017.

In the majority of alerts filed about Malta, the government has failed to provide a reply.

The SLAPP threat by Musayev against the five newsrooms in Malta was also registered on Mapping Media Freedom. The platform is a European project that tracks threats, violations and limitations imposed on media professionals, run by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).

Reporters without Borders (RSF) and Article 19 have condemned the SLAPP against the press in Malta. Rebecca Vincent, the RSF director said that courageous investigative journalism must be protected.

MEP David Casa, who is a member of the Media Working Group of the European Parliament, sent a letter to Atkins Thomson Solicitors, the law firm engaged by Musayev, demanding that he retracts threats made against The Shift and other media houses.

The Institute of Maltese Journalists (IGM) also condemned Musayev’s threats and called for a meeting with the Prime Minister to address SLAPP threats against journalists.

Musayev’s is the fourth SLAPP threat received by The Shift. In every case, the newsroom has stood by its reporting and refused to take down articles.

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