European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has again stressed the need for independent and thorough investigations in the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that are free from political interference.
In a letter to MEP David Casa last week, the EC President said the Commission has on various occasions “strongly condemned the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia and it has emphasised that justice must be secured”.
Von der Leyen was responding to a letter sent by Casa in December. She pointed out: “On 30 September 2020, the Commission issued its first annual Rule of Law report. The country chapter on Malta notes that Ms Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination was widely seen as an attack on freedom of expression and that it triggered concerns about media freedom and the safety of journalists in Malta”.
The report also referred to the strong demand for clarity about the circumstances surrounding the assassination and the reforms to strengthen the rule of law and pursue the fight against corruption, von der Leyen added while acknowledging the setting up of the public inquiry.
“Against this background, I fully recognise the need for the public inquiry to be allowed to fulfil its objectives unhindered,” the EC President said.
Nine press freedom organisations have already objected to the efforts of Prime Minister Robert Abela to close the public inquiry. It was also met with resistance by the members of the public inquiry board who insisted they would see through their remit.
Von der Leyen said the Commission would continue to monitor the situation of the rule of law in Malta while acknowledging reforms announced with regards to the justice system and checks and balances.
“Attacks on journalists, abuse of defamation laws and other forms of intimidation and pressure continue to make journalists’ working conditions difficult,” she said, reminding Member States that they have an obligation to guarantee an enabling environment for journalists.
Referring to “a clear need to shelter journalists from abusive litigation,” the EC President pointed out that the Commission has proposed steps to strengthen media freedom and pluralism under the European Democracy Action Plan adopted last December.
The Action Plan includes measures to improve journalists’ safety and protect against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
“Journalists must feel safe to work in Europe,” von der Leyen said. “If not, democracy as we know it will be under threat.”