They didn’t like what she was reporting, didn’t like what she was doing. So it was easier just to get rid of her.
After 30 years in Moscow, Sarah Rainsford, BBC’s correspondent was banned from entering Russia ever again. She had tenaciously reported on Vladimir Putin’s systematic crushing of rights and freedoms, particularly over the last year as repression intensified. Critics of Putin and his government are regularly labelled foreign agents and traitors. Rainsford was the latest to be labelled a threat to national security.
Putin has made it harder and harder for journalists to work in Russia – another step towards limiting freedoms. So it was with some relish that the Russian national TV newscaster announced “Sarah Rainsford is going home”.
Rainsford arrived in Moscow in 1992 when Gorbachev started opening the country to the world and Russia was toppling its old symbols of a rejected regime. The statue of the despised founder of the KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky was toppled from its plinth across which the word ‘executioner’ was daubed. Statues of Stalin met the same fate.
As Rainsford was expelled from Russia, Putin was putting Stalin’s statues back on their pedestals while he tightened his iron grip on power and instilled fear into opposition activists. Anastasia Shevchenko, who was kept under house arrest for two years and handed a four year suspended jail term for defending human rights was not even allowed to be with her teenage daughter in the latter’s final days. “I never feel safe in my country,” Shevchenko lamented, “I am afraid, for myself, for my children, for my mother”.
Despite Putin’s brutality, the BBC’s journalist was given three weeks’ grace to pack her bags and allowed to return home safely. In Malta another tenacious journalist was given no time. They didn’t like what she was reporting, didn’t like what she was doing. So they got rid of her, literally. For Konrad Mizzi’s consultant, Tony Zarb, “the most important thing for our Malta is that Caruana Galizia never returns”.
It’s not just Malta that has lost journalists. Even civilized countries like Holland have too. Peter de Vries, a famous investigative reporter, ignored threats to his life as he bravely uncovered the power of criminals. On 7th July 2021, de Vries was shot 5 times at point blank range in Amsterdam. Nine days later he passed away. That is where Holland’s similarities to Malta end.
Barely 3 months after his murder, the trial of two murder suspects was already underway. In Malta, it is now past four years and not a proper trial in sight.
The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte demonstrated how a decent prime minister behaves in such circumstances. He was categorical in his statements from the start. “This is an attack on the free journalism so essential for our democracy,” he commented. But he went further. “This is shocking and incomprehensible, an attack on a courageous journalist and on the freedom of the press”.
He went beyond mere platitudes. “We owe it to Peter to ensure justice takes its course – this cowardly act must not go unpunished,” he promised. And true to his word, within weeks the murder trial had begun. In contrast, Malta’s government resisted, with every means possible, setting up a public inquiry. Only a Council of Europe ultimatum, which Rosianne Cutajar attempted to torpedo, compelled the government to set it up.
“It is almost impossible to comprehend – my thoughts are with his family, relatives, friends, colleagues and all those close to him and I wish them a lot of strength in this unimaginably difficult time,” Rutte exclaimed. In contrast, Minister Owen Bonnici continued for months his callous and abusive clearing of Caruana Galizia’s memorial. Prime minister Joseph Muscat’s wife moaned that “now I will have to live with her lies”.
To this day, the assassinated journalist’s family continue to be subjected to hateful and painful taunting by Labour’s media, MPs, candidates and loyalists. Current Prime minister Robert Abela last year attempted to impose a 15th December deadline for completion of that inquiry and threatened that the board must “shoulder the responsibility of its decisions and the consequences these bring”.
Dutch justice minister Grapperhaus called de Vries “a brave man who can be described in four words – uncompromising, fearless, tenacious and compassionate”. Edward Zammit Lewis, our justice minister, reiterated Abela’s threat, stating in Parliament that “If the public inquiry is not completed (by December), the rule of the jungle will take over.”
The Inquiry Board ignored those threats, publishing its damning report on 29th July 2021. Its primary recommendation was that “government must consider taking appropriate and opportune steps to ensure that the state reconciles with the assassinated journalist’s family and initiates the healing process from the serious traumatic wound which the country went through and is still going through”.
In Holland, thousands queued for hours outside the Carre’ theatre in Amsterdam to pay their last respects at the coffin of the journalist, while images of the journalist were projected inside and outside the building. Prime minister Rutte paid his respects too.
Robert Abela had the perfect opportunity to implement that primary recommendation of the board of inquiry – to reconcile with the journalist’s family by taking appropriate steps. Four years since the barbaric execution and almost 3 months from the inquiry report, Abela could have made that move and paid his respects at the site of the assassination or at her memorial. He could have tried to bring reconciliation to the nation. He could have at least sent a public condolence message to the family – and a message to his supporters to at least refrain from personal abuse.
Abela was too weak, too cold, too petty. As the world commemorated Caruana Galizia’s memory, Abela could not even muster a single word of human kindness, could not even bring himself to mention her name through gritted teeth.
De Vries’ motto was “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees”. Others would rather crawl on their belly and eat the dust.