The international campaign director for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is visiting Malta this week ahead of the expected publication of the conclusions of the public inquiry board tasked with establishing the extent of the state’s role in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In comments given to The Shift, Rebecca Vincent stood by the organisation’s repeated condemnation of the lack of successful prosecutions since the murder, maintaining the country is still susceptible to “systemic failings when it comes to rule of law and democratic institutions”.
“The extensive reporting proving this is the case shows that none of these failings have been addressed,” Vincent said.
“If the Maltese government continues ignoring recommendations from international communities in that regard, these problems will continue and what we saw happening with Daphne’s assassination could happen to somebody else,” she added, referring to damning reports such as the Venice commission’s assessment as further evidence of the severity of the situation.
She also referred to the obstacles faced by the international community in getting the public inquiry to actually occur, arguing that “in a campaigning sense, it was a victory to even secure it”.
“What happens in Malta could have a knock-on impact elsewhere. If we achieve justice here, conversely, it can have strong preventive effects elsewhere as well. At each stage, we must make sure that all eyes must remain on Malta,” Vincent added.
RSF is an international press freedom organisation that has been closely following the events following the journalist’s murder in October 2017. The organisation publishes the annual World Press Freedom Index that saw Malta’s rankings plummet from 45 in 2013 to 81 in 2020. The country retained the same position in the latest Index.
The campaign director’s visit, besides serving as a reminder of international solidarity from a wide network of international NGOs cooperating to sustain international pressure on local government, is also meant as a follow-up to the organisation’s efforts to monitor court proceedings in relation to the case.
Vincent also plans on monitoring Wednesday’s court hearing on the continued compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech, accused of commissioning the journalist’s murder.
“It’s really important that, not just in Fenech’s case but also in all other cases, that these are all seen through and that justice is fully served. The worst case scenario is that these individuals are somehow let off on a technicality,” Vincent said.
Vincent also emphasised that the conclusions of the public inquiry that investigated what happened to Caruana Galizia, while “incredibly important in their own right”, are also vital to ensure that “we learn what we can” to prevent the murder of other journalists.
“If this report is strong and its recommendations are solid, it could even possibly be used as a model for how to respond to such cases in other countries. So far we’ve been encouraged by the work of the public inquiry, it seems to have been a robust process,” she said.
“It’s not just about unearthing what has already happened, either; it’s how that is integrated in the process of justice in the context of the shocking evidence of criminal activity and corruption among authorities,” Vincent stated.
“Those things need to be investigated and prosecuted both internally and externally in relation to the murder case,” she added.
RSF also voiced concerns about the fact that four years have passed since Caruana Galizia was murdered and yet, progress on the case has been “slow-moving” and how “in other EU countries where a journalist was murdered, any other similar process has moved at a faster pace”.
“The impact of these delays is that from a campaigning point of view, it’s hard to sustain the momentum, which begs the question: Is that the point of the delays?”
She added that RSF and its network are doing their utmost to ensure that the campaign is seen through to the point where all those involved have had to face consequences for their actions to ensure that “justice is not considered as a done deal”.
She also referred to the effect the delay in judiciary proceedings has had on civil society and journalists striving to continue the same investigative work conducted by Caruana Galizia before her assassination, referring to their efforts as “an uphill struggle”.
“From my perspective, they seem to still be very embattled. People are still fighting against the odds in this regard,” she added.
“Although there have been minor improvements in some areas, we’ve been hearing the same complaints from civil society, journalists in relation to difficulties concerning access to information, a lack of transparency and hostility towards media,” she continued.
“People must continue demanding accountability from the authorities. What happened to Daphne should have never even happened in the first place,” she added.