Government joins call for justice in Caruana Galizia murder, amid concerns by press organisations

A delegation of press freedom organisations were in Malta on a fact-finding mission to assess press freedom in the country and voice concerns about the ‘lack of progress’ in Daphne Caruana Galizia murder investigation

Thousands marched in Valletta last night to mark the first anniversary since Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder
Thousands marched in Valletta last night to mark the first anniversary since Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder

The Maltese government said on Wednesday evening that it joined six international press freedom organisations in stressing the need for justice in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

PEN International, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the European Federation of Journalists, were in Malta between the 15 and 16 October to assess press freedom in the country and to voice concerns about what they described as a lack of progress in the murder investigation.

The government reiterated its full support towards local and international investigators who it said were conducting a thorough and serious investigation, as evidenced by the fact that three men were arraigned within 50 days of the killing.

It also said it agreed that the free press was crucial in a democracy, adding that it was fully committed to further strengthening freedom of expression in Malta, as evidenced by the recently-revised press laws.

The law, it said, was “one of the most progressive legislations in Europe and outside the continent as it did not only strike off criminal libel in whatever form from our law books, but also implemented a wide array of reforms which increased journalistic freedoms.”

In addition to the law, the government said it had embarked on a wide range of  reforms to strengthen the rule of law, bolstering Malta’s  democracy with the introduction of new legislation bringing Malta “at par with European best practices in many areas of governance”.  

It said it looked forward to implementing further reforms  as suggested by the Vince Commission of the Council of Europe, while reaffirming its commitment to engaging with all “bona fide international institutions” to foster a “deep dialogue” for the benefit of democracy, civil society and the rule of law.

Malta not living up to freedom of expression obligations

At a press conference on Wednesday morning, the organisations said their visit had expressed their concern that Malta was not living up to its obligations to guarantee and safeguard freedom of expression as required by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The organisations said they were also deeply concerned about the lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and its chilling effect on public interest investigative reporting.

“Malta’s international image has been severely negatively impacted,” the delegation said. “The only way to start to repair this reputational damage will be to achieve full justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia and her family."

The delegation said it was concerned at the fact that there didn’t appear to be any “thorough lines of investigation into the motive behind the assassination”.

Moreover, concerns were also raised there was no indication that investigators would be investigating possible ties to high-level political and business figures.

“On the contrary, our conversations over the last three days have revealed that numerous relevant individuals have not been interviewed,” it said, adding that it was left to conclude that authorities were not “seriously considering the possibility that Caruana Galizia was murdered for her scrutiny of political and/or business issues”.

The delegation also reiterated its call for a public inquiry into the murder to be held noting that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had stated that it “wasn’t a matter of whether, but when” such an inquiry would be established. Muscat, the organisations said, insisted that such an inquiry would prejudice the ongoing criminal investigations.

Another issue which the delegation pointed out what  the repeated attacks on the makeshift memorial honouring Caruana Galizia in Valletta.

It described “vilification campaigns by authorities, including members of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Chair of Valletta 2018, both before and after [Caruana Galizia’s] death” as deeply disturbing.

The delegation said it had received no assurances from Muscat that the memorial would be protected but noted that he had said that he would welcome the application for a permanent memorial.

Furthermore, concerns were also raised on challenges faced by the journalistic profession, including the way in which government advertising is allocated, the “unhealthy polarisation within the  journalistic community”, the lack of access to information and lack as economic stability.

The use of defamation lawsuits to target independent journalists was also worrying, it said, stressing that such suits acted as “deterrents to journalists who would otherwise be more willing to take up critical investigations or sensitive reporting”.

It also described the pursuit of lawsuits against Caruana Galizia posthumously as vexatious, noting that the existence of this provision in Maltese law is not in line with international best practice.