Joseph Muscat tells Council of Europe he won’t drop Caruana Galizia libel suits unless family accepts Egrant findings

Council of Europe asks Joseph Muscat to drop libel cases against Daphne Caruana Galizia • PM wants journalist's heirs to accept Egrant inquiry findings • Family insists it will not succumb to blackmail

Dunja Mijatović, Joseph Muscat and Matthew Caruana Galizia
Dunja Mijatović, Joseph Muscat and Matthew Caruana Galizia

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was told by the Council of Europe in a letter dated 12 September that he should drop all libel suits against the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

COE's Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović told Muscat that ongoing libel cases were putting unwarranted psychological and financial pressure on the journalist's heirs.

She claimed that such persistence could translate into an intimidation of the family and that it cast doubt on the Maltese authorities’ commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds of Caruana Galizia’s assassination to justice.

Mijatović added that Caruana Galizia's heirs could be expected to reveal information on her journalistic work and sources. "In my opinion, this is not only an excessive and very complex burden for the respondents but may also constitute an undue interference with the right to protection of journalistic sources," she wrote.

At the time of her assassination, Caruana Galizia was facing more than 40 defamation suits, including those by the Prime Minister.

However, in his response, Muscat reiterated that he would only drop the cases if the family publicly declared that they accepted the findings of the Egrant inquiry which had exonerated him and his wife of any wrongdoing.

"This independent inquiry, presided over by a magistrate, had exonerated me and my family from very serious accusations levelled against us by Ms Caruana Galizia and found that the documents that were supposed to prove wrongdoing were forged," he wrote, adding that such findings had been immediately made public by the Attorney General.

Muscat was referring to the conclusion of the inquiry, which were released in the summer of 2018. The full copy of the Egrant inquiry report is yet to be published.

 

But in a terse reaction on Thursday, the Caruana Galizia family insisted it would "not succumb to blackmail". The family said it did not have access to the full inquiry and so could not comment on the findings.

In his response to the Council of Europe, Muscat said that his government had made efforts to reform libel laws. He noted that criminal libel was abolished and the maximum amount of damages in a civil case was capped at €11,600. The filing of multiple libel actions against journalists was also halted.

He added that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had not raised the issue of the possibility of libel action against the heirs of a deceased journalist prior to the adoption of the Media and Defamation Act.

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