Killed for chasing the truth

A social media effort is afoot, spontaneous or orchestrated, pushing a series of questions: Why doesn’t the public inquiry focus on Daphne Caruana Galizia and her family? What of her own  ‘responsibility’ in making enemies? Why did she or other family members take ‘unnecessary’ risks?

Swatting these questions is easy. Caruana Galizia is not in the dock. No one is. The inquiry’s only job is to determine whether the State bears any responsibility for the assassination.

Is swatting enough? The crassness, spite and insult don’t deserve a longer answer. The ignorance does. Some of it is honest. It needs to be given perspective.

Every time Caruana Galizia receives international recognition from fellow journalists, someone in Malta always asks, ‘But do they really know her’?

Answer: Caruana Galizia wasn’t killed for her social criticism. There’s an eternity to debate and shake one’s head over that. First, though, let’s secure justice for her corruption investigations, the reason she was assassinated.

Here, international ‘recognition’ is the right word. To the international fraternity of journalists, Caruana Galizia is a recognisable figure. It’s not just the brutality of her death that she shares with other journalists killed while investigating Italy’s organised crime and corruption, the Mexican drug wars, the kleptocracy and reign of terror in Russia and its satellite States, or the horrors of the two Irelands.

A short list of three: Veronica Guerin (1959-96), Irish, shot at a traffic stop by gunmen working for a drug lord. Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006), Russian, shot point-blank in the head, in her block of flats, on Vladimir Putin’s birthday. Natasha Estemirova (1958-2009), Chechen, abducted and shot in the head and chest, by senior aides to the Chechen strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov.

“She banged on doors, rowed with corrupt politicians, shouted at heartless army men. She was fierce, stubborn and strong. She was unstoppable until the end.”

Familiar? That’s Politkovskaya described by Lana, Estemirova’s daughter. But she could have been describing Guerin, who went to confront the drug lord at his home, was beaten up and returned home to resume investigating him. A year later, he had her killed.

Lana could have been describing the steel in her own mother. She was a history teacher when her husband was killed in the first Chechen war. She left that place of greater safety to investigate the reign of terror: the abductions, torture and extra-judicial killings.

Estemirova accompanied Politkovskaya for a 2004 interview with Kadyrov, then deputy prime minister. The article they published described, says Lana: ‘his aggression, his bratty, domineering tendencies and, most importantly, the underlying insecurity that manifested itself in his ugly mannerisms.’

Withering scorn puncturing the pretensions of power? Still familiar territory.

These were women ready to be ‘difficult’. When the 2003 film about Guerin came out, the critic Roger Ebert praised Cate Blanchett for getting right the balance between heroine and anti-heroine.

A straightforward tale of courage and valour couldn’t capture the whole character; the obstinacy, ferocity, ambition and competitiveness, for instance. What other kind of woman would survive for years in the sinister world that Guerin and her sisters-in-death operated in?

Caruana Galizia had long years of threatening phone calls and anonymous notes, slaughtered dogs, and arson attacks. Politkovskaya was once poisoned by an Aeroflot attendant. She routinely received rape and death threats. A colleague estimated she had faced death at least nine times.

Estemirova was directly warned by Kadyrov and received death threats from his aides. A few months before she died, a colleague was murdered. She sat up all night discussing who was next, knowing it could be her.

If you yearn for a gentler kind of journalist, then insist on a gentler kind of politics—one where politicians do not respond to criticism and investigation by campaigns of intimidation. Otherwise, the only journalists who can hold power to account will be the ones as tough and cutting as their quarry.

“But Daphne refused protection!” Guerin, Politkovskaya and Estemirova operated without protection, too. Their protection would have exposed their sources. (In Caruana Galizia’s case, the former police commissioner, John Rizzo, has stated that he had provided alternative surveillance, anyway.)

A short time before she was killed, Estemirova spent a sabbatical in Oxford with her daughter, who remembers it as an unusually happy time for her mother. Estemirova’s friends urged her to spend more time in the UK, but she insisted on returning to Grozny.

She knew the risks. A colleague told The Guardian’s Luke Harding that, although Estemirova was an atheist, it was as though her work was a religious calling.

All these women were like that: flawed and — despite, because of, and thanks to their flaws — drawn fatally towards the truth. To focus on their personal flaws, given the far graver sins they exposed, is nuts or corrupt.

To criticise them for recklessness, when what they wanted is the truth, is to say you’ve accepted to live in a society where political truth is an inessential luxury. You’re the one who’s reckless.


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Henry Azzopardi
1 year ago

Don’t forget that we had a very suspicious death here in the UK too, some might say it was state sponsored assassination of Dr. David Kelly who after fact finding thorough investigation in Iraq he and his team found no WMD in Saddam’s Iraq, that exposed Tony Blair massive lie and excuse to take the UK into war.

1 year ago

“Integrity is a very expensive gift, do not expect it from cheap people” ~ Excellent article and sharing.

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