A Maltese minister visited Saudi Arabia, posing for photos with his Saudi counterpart days before the 5th anniversary of the brutal murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, amid intensifying criticism over a failure to deal with its own media freedom issues following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo was in Riyadh last week for World Tourism Day, organised by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. He met with his Saudi counterpart, Deputy Tourism Minister Sultan M. al Musallam.
“A very interesting meeting with the Deputy Minister for Tourism of Saudi Arabia, Sultan M. al Musallam, on the importance of education in the tourism sector and the investment that Malta is making in the field,” he wrote on Facebook.
After the meeting, it was reported Malta was likely to back Riyadh’s bid to hold the World Expo 2030 instead of Italy’s Rome or South Korea’s Busan, who are also competing for the title of host city. The decision is set to be made following a secret vote on 28 November.
This comes at a time when journalists, organisations, and media workers are marking the fifth anniversary of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence found that the murder was explicitly approved by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Committee to Protect Journalists recently renewed its call for Saudi authorities to cease the detention and targeting of journalists in the country, end the crackdown on free expression and free speech, end growing transnational repression practices, and stop the criminalisation of civic and political space.
They also called on the US Biden administration to do more to crack down on the country and to work to secure significant commitments in line with their recommendations, else “it would indicate that it has forsaken Jamal’s memory and his vision for a free, just, and democratic Saudi Arabia.”
In addition, US Representatives Adam Schiff, Betty McCollum, and Gerry Connolly introduced the Jamal Khashoggi Protection of Activists and Press Freedom Act of 2023 to protect activists and journalists, codify the Khashoggi Ban- a visa restriction policy for those involved in counter-dissident activities, and introduce the Khashoggi Amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
“This legislation, named in honour of the late Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, would strengthen the United States’ commitment to hold to account those who would target journalists for violence and persecution,” said Rep. Schiff, Co-Founder of the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus.
“The United States must send a powerful message to those complicit in Khashoggi’s murder and to all foreign entities that systematically harass, suppress, and threaten dissidents and journalists: such anti-democratic attacks will be met with real, meaningful, and punishing consequences.”
Meanwhile, Bartolo did not address the issue during his visit, nor did the Maltese government mention the anniversary or concerns about the murder before, during, or after the visit.
This comes at a time when the government faces increased criticism and scrutiny over its lack of action in the assassination of Caruana Galizia, with the sixth anniversary coming up in under two weeks.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation today expressed “shock” at the failure of Prime Minister Robert Abela to mention the Rule of Law recommendations listed in the conclusions by a board of judges in the public inquiry on her assassination.
“In his address to parliament yesterday, Abela failed to mention the public inquiry report’s Rule of Law recommendations, thereby reconfirming his government’s intention to ignore them. This is a shocking response to Daphne’s ultimate sacrifice and a worrying reminder that investigative journalists will remain unprotected,” the Foundation said.
The Foundation reminded the prime minister and his government that the public inquiry report concluded that the Maltese State must shoulder responsibility for Daphne’s death.
On Tuesday, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, also published a letter sent to Abela, expressing concern over the implementation of public inquiry recommendations and the effective exercise of the human right to freedom of expression.
She noted the lack of results in bringing to justice all those responsible for the murder and stated that proposed legislative changes fall short of the reforms required.
Mijatovic added that full public consultations, including the media, civil society, and interested citizens, must be carried out.