World Press Freedom Day 2018: PEN Shines Light on Malta

03 May 2018
World Press Freedom Day 2018: PEN Shines Light on Malta

May 3 marks World Press Freedom Day, and for 2018, PEN SA – along with PEN International and other PEN Centres worldwide – is focusing our attention on disturbing ongoings in Malta.

Six months ago, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a renowned journalist was killed in Malta in a targeted car bomb attack.Caruana Galizia spent much of her work in recent years exposing government corruption – most recently reporting on the Panama Papers, which exposed the offshore activities of powerful officials and companies around the world. Her blog, Running Commentarywhich included investigative reports on Maltese politicians, was one of the most widely read websites in Malta.

To mark the six-month anniversary of her killing, PEN members worldwide signed an open letter, which was published widely. The government of Malta issued a response to PEN’s letter with their own letter in the Guardian, which accuses PEN International of misleading its members. PEN International says the Maltese response “distorts the meaning of PEN’s letter and fails to address PEN’s legitimate, well-founded concerns regarding the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder.”

As the PEN open letter states, the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was ordered in direct response to her journalistic work in exposing rampant government corruption at the heart of the EU. Since her death, we have witnessed with horror the repeated and aggressive destruction of the memorial to Daphne Caruana Galizia in Valletta, which was created in response to the horrific events. The Maltese authorities have not attempted to protect this memorial. In particular, we are outraged by the comments of Jason Micallef, Chairman of the Valletta 2018 Foundation, and as such the Capital of Culture’s official representative in Malta. Since her assassination, Micallef has repeatedly and publically attacked and ridiculed Daphne Caruana Galizia on social media, ordered the removal of banners calling for justice for her death and called for her temporary memorial to be cleared. This is far from appropriate behaviour for an official designated to represent the European Capital of Culture, and in fact serves to further the interests of those trying to prevent an effective and impartial investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death.

It is also of enormous concern that, even after her assassination, senior government officials, including the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, are insisting on trying thirty-four libel cases against her, which have now been assumed by her family. In addition to these cases, the Prime Minister is taking a further libel case against Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew, himself a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist. We have reason to believe that these proceedings are in direct reprisal for his mother’s work in investigating corruption within the current Maltese government. The Prime Minister is currently compelling Matthew to return to Malta to stand trial, despite independent security experts advising Matthew to remain outside Malta due to substantial threats to his life there.

Whistle-blower Maria Efimova was one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sources on corruption within the disgraced Malta-based Pilatus Bank. The Maltese authorities filed a European Arrest Warrant for Efimova after she was forced to flee to Greece with her family. On 12 April, a Greek court refused Malta’s request to extradite Efimova on the grounds that the charges brought by the Maltese authorities against her are “vague”. We welcome this highly unusual decision, one of the first of its kind within the EU. Despite this, the Maltese authorities have not dropped the charges against Efimova. We believe the charges against Efimova to be purely political and are deeply concerned about both her safety and the independence of the legal process she would face should she return to Malta.

PEN is also concerned about on-going reprisals against investigative journalists and human rights defenders working to secure justice in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s case and for the corruption she exposed. For example, senior officials within the office of the Maltese Prime Minister, recently implied that Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew Caruana Galizia, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, colluded with his mother’s killers. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is also pursuing a libel case against him. The Shift News, an independent media outlet launched after Caruana Galizia’s assassination which has pursued a number of her stories, is currently facing the threat of a financially crippling SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) from the Jersey-based firm Henley & Partners, who had taken legal proceedings against Daphne Caruana Galizia prior to her death.

In addition, Martina Urso, a civil society activist from the anti-corruption group Il Kennesia, which campaigns for justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia, has also been subject to a torrent of misogynistic abuse – including from members of the Maltese administration and the Artistic Director of Valletta 18, Mario Philip Azzopardi, following her participation in a civil society protest in London on 20 April. Urso was subjected to hundreds of online threats, and her ID card and home address were leaked from a reportedly fake Facebook account and shared online.

This World Press Freedom Day, PEN SA stands in solidarity with PEN International in re-iterating its call for an “independent, impartial investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in line with international human rights law”.

Along with our colleagues’ calls to Maltese representatives in their respective countries, we call upon the Maltese Honorary Consulate in Johannesburg to respond to the concerns outlined by dozens of South African PEN members – many of whom are journalists – with the following steps to be taken:

  • The Maltese authorities to ensure a full, independent, impartial and effective investigation into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the crimes she exposed;
  • Urge the Maltese authorities to drop the libel cases being pursued against her by members of the government after her death;
  • Urge Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, to drop his personal libel trial against Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew, himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist through which he is compelling Matthew to return to Malta to stand trial, despite independent security experts advising Matthew to remain outside Malta due to substantial threats to his life there;
  • Support independent monitoring of the legal proceedings in Malta concerning the assassination and the 34 libel trials being pursued against Daphne Caruana Galizia’s estate.

Image from the Guardian by Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images