PEN Malta has expressed its “dismay” at court reports that the person charged with killing journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia also plotted to file a ruinous SLAPP suit against journalist and activist Manuel Delia in the UK. Delia is a founding member of PEN Malta.
The organisation was reacting to reports resulting from Matthew Caruana Galizia’s testimony in court on Tuesday in the compilation of evidence against Yorgen Fenech who is accused of commissioning his mother’s murder. Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally killed by a car bomb close to her residence on 16 October 2017.
Her son, Matthew, told the court that Fenech had sought the services of a British law firm to sue Delia, as well as MEP David Casa.
“The attempt to mount a massive SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against him by Yorgen Fenech is abhorrent and shocking. This plan aimed to financially ruin Delia and stop his reporting was devised with the active help of UK lawyers ACK Law,” PEN Malta said.
SLAPP lawsuits involve the engagement of law firms in foreign jurisdictions to silence reporting. The cost of mounting a legal defence is prohibitive for most newsrooms, let alone individual journalists.
Most independent newsrooms in Malta have faced such legal threats for their reporting, most notably in reporting on the Mozura wind farm deal in Montenegro where Azerbaijani-British national Turab Musayev, who was also SOCAR’s representative on the Electrogas deal, threatened to sue a number of media outlets in Malta.
PEN Malta said the latest news highlights yet again the urgency with which journalists need to be protected from the criminal subjects of their investigations, and the concomitant need for European-wide legislation against SLAPPs.
European Parliament Vice-President Roberta Metsola, together with MEP Tiemo Wolken, have concluded a report (and a motion for a European Parliament resolution) on SLAPP for the Committee on Legal Affairs Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
It notes that SLAPPs constitute a misuse of Member States’ justice systems and legal frameworks and are often “meritless”, “frivolous” and initiated for the purpose of intimidation, harassment, and psychologically pressuring journalists and members of civil society.
“PEN Malta calls upon the Maltese authorities to implement anti-SLAPP legislation to protect Maltese writers and activists without any further delay. We also call on all free-speech activists and the rest of civil society to insist on legislative reforms that protect journalists and activists from libel tourism and SLAPP suits.”
The Opposition has twice tried to drive forward legislation in this regard but efforts were shot down by the government.