Six international press freedom and freedom of expression groups have travelled to Malta to mark the first anniversary of the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The organisations are conducting “fact-finding into the case and the broader free expression climate in the country” as they renew their calls for justice alongside Caruana Galizia’s family.
Since the reporter’s death, three men have been charged with her murder, but her family and campaign groups continue to fight for those who ordered the killing to be brought to justice.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, and PEN International met with Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat today to raise their concerns.
The groups said: “A full year on, there has been no meaningful result in the investigation beyond identifying three suspected hitmen. Those who ordered the assassination have yet to be identified and brought to justice.
“We are concerned about the independence and the limited scope of the current investigation – has it explored all possible lines of inquiry, such as whether her assassination was related to her reporting on corruption at the highest levels in Malta?”
Caruana Galizia, 53, died when a bomb detonated in her car as she drove away from her home in the town of Mosta, sending the vehicle’s wreckage into a nearby field.
She published her investigations on her blog, Running Commentary, and her work included stories based on the Panama Papers leak detailing the secret offshore holdings of politicians in Malta.
A magisterial inquiry has been opened into the case in Malta, looking at whether others should be charged with criminal offences for commissioning the alleged assassins.
The press freedom groups today called on the Prime Minister to immediately establish a public inquiry into whether Caruana Galizia’s murder could have been prevented and ensure the same thing never happens again.
In a joint statement, the groups said: “We are deeply concerned by the impact of Daphne’s assassination on journalists who continue to do public interest investigative reporting.
“They work in a climate of fear, and self-censorship has become widespread.”
Caruana Galizia’s family began to call for a public inquiry in August, while last week 25 international press freedom organisations published an open letter to Muscat supporting this call.
According to the Malta Independent, Muscat responded that launching another inquiry while the magisterial inquiry is taking place would prejudice the one already underway, although he did not exclude the possibility of other inquiries being launched later on.
In their meeting today, the press freedom groups also criticised the “vilification” of Caruana Galizia which they said has continued at the highest levels of government since her death.
They called for the resignation of Malta’s city of culture programme chairman Jason Micallef, who has been criticised for his “repeated public denigration” of the journalist despite a remit to promote culture and the media.
Thirty libel cases remain active against Caruana Galizia, they said, including five which were scheduled for court hearings today.
Today’s cases included two each filed by Malta’s Minister for Tourism Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, plus one from Phyllis Muscat, head of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting task force 2015.
Lawsuits have also been filed by Muscat against Caruana Galizia and her son Matthew, also a journalist.
The press groups have also asked for access to be restored to the Great Siege monument in Valletta, which was used as a makeshift memorial to Caruana Galizia until it was blocked off by the authorities last month.
Representatives from the groups placed flowers and candles around the monument yesterday and found they had been taken away this morning – just one of over 20 times the memorial has been destroyed, they said.
Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK bureau director, tweeted this morning: “[It’s] incredibly petty and vindictive of Joseph Muscat’s administration to not allow even this most basic form of free expression. But this will not diminish the memory of Daphne Caruana Galizia – quite the opposite.”
Concluding its statement to Muscat, asking him again to commit to setting up a public inquiry, the collective said: “We have not witnessed such ongoing vilification campaigns by authorities against a journalist, both before and after her death.
“Malta, a democracy and member of the European Union and the Council of Europe, is not living up to its obligations to guarantee and safeguard freedom of expression as required by the European Convention on Human Rights. Malta’s international image has been tarnished.
“We never thought we would need to come to Malta on an international mission to ask the government to protect journalists, but here we are.
“The only way to start to repair this damage to Malta’s reputation will be to achieve real, full justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
Vigils will be held in cities across Europe tomorrow to mark the anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Picture: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi