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We, the undersigned free expression, press freedom, and journalists’ organisations, express support for The Shift News as it faces an all-out legal battle against 40 freedom of information (FOI) lawsuits brought by 40 government entities in Malta. These appeal lawsuits pose a serious threat to the country’s already worrying freedom of information and press freedom climate. We call for these cases to be immediately dropped and for the government of Malta to fully comply with its FOI obligations going forward.
In July 2021, Malta’s Data Protection Commissioner ruled in favour of 40 FOI requests filed by independent media outlet The Shift News as part of an investigation into relations between Media Today co-owner Saviour Balzan and government entities. The Shift specifically asked for a list of all contracts and payments between companies owned by Balzan and governmental bodies, in light of the public interest need for transparency in relations between independent media and government in a troubling media landscape dominated by political party ownership.
Each of the government entities lodged identical appeals against the Data Protection Commissioner’s decisions. Eventually, all 40 decisions were appealed, naming The Shift News founder and editor Caroline Muscat, who had submitted the FOI requests. The Appeals Tribunal has so far issued 12 rulings, all in favour of The Shift and the Data Protection Commissioner. These 40 governmental bodies are now pursuing a second round of appeals against these decisions, opening up another front in an already costly legal battle.
These vexatious lawsuits seem intended not to win, but to exhaust The Shift’s time and resources, and divert the outlet’s ability to pursue public interest reporting, while also sending a clear signal to others that the Maltese government will fight media attempts to obtain information under the FOI law. Our organisations condemn these legal proceedings aimed at weakening Malta’s independent press, and call for them to be immediately dropped. The Maltese government must instead comply with its FOI obligations, and take immediate steps to improve freedom of information and press freedom in the country.
The Shift has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the high costs associated with fighting this legal battle, which can be supported by following this link.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
ARTICLE 19 Europe
Association of European Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Index on Censorship
International Press Institute (IPI)
OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”117699″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]The following remarks were made by Caoilfhionn Gallagher, QC of Doughty Street Chambers, a member of the international legal team for the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia at a vigil on Friday 15 October 2021 at the Maltese High Commission to mark the fourth anniversary of Daphne’s assassination.
“We gather today in London to pay tribute to Daphne Caruana Galizia and honour her memory, and to stand in solidarity with her bereaved family in Malta. On this, the fourth anniversary of her assassination, I wish to say four things.
“First, it is now ten weeks since the independent public inquiry in Malta published its detailed 437-page report, finding that the Maltese State should shoulder responsibility for her death. The damning report concluded that a culture of impunity was created from the highest echelons of power within the Castille. Former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was singled out and identified as enabling this culture of impunity, and his entire cabinet was found to be collectively responsible for their inaction in the lead up to the assassination.
“The State, the report held, ‘created an atmosphere of impunity, generated from the highest echelons of the administration inside Castille, the tentacles of which then spread to other institutions, such as the police and regulatory authorities, leading to a collapse in the rule of law.’ The report laid bare endemic corruption and fundamental structural failures, the very subjects of Daphne’s reporting.
“The Government created a ‘favourable climate’ for anyone seeking to eliminate Daphne to do so with the minimum of consequences, giving a green light to her being treated as a target. The State also failed to recognise the real and immediate risks to Daphne’s life, and failed to take reasonable steps to avoid those risks. And a myriad of other systemic failings were identified which failed Daphne, failed her family, failed journalists, and failed the Maltese people.
“And yet, 10 weeks on, we remain without a meaningful response to that report by the Maltese Government. The Government has not even released an English translation of the 437-page report – what translations you have heard or read have been provided by the bereaved family and their lawyers, not the State. Even this basic step, to commit to transparency and enable the international community to understand what happened and hold Malta to account, has not been taken.
“Second, it is now four years since Daphne was brutally murdered, in an assassination which sent shockwaves across Europe. Daphne was a brilliant, brave, dogged investigative journalist, who honed her craft over decades, often sitting at her kitchen table where she spent her last few hours with her son Matthew.
“She was isolated in those final months and years, facing multiple oppressive law suits, threats of financial ruin, abuse on the street and online, dehumanising and misogynistic images circulating. And yet, there has still been no unequivocal acceptance of the horrors that she faced, let alone an unequivocal apology for it, from Malta.
“Third, I ask what should Malta now do? Daphne’s assassination followed decades of abuse. It occurred within a climate of impunity and negative rhetoric directed against Daphne and other journalists in Malta. Today, her family calls upon the Government of Malta to unequivocally condemn the climate of impunity and negative rhetoric identified by the public inquiry, which dehumanised her and fuelled her murder.
“There must be root and branch political and legislative reform.
“And above all, Daphne’s family must have meaningful involvement in what comes next. The family counts on the Prime Minister to consult with them and civil society on the foundational principles for the independent committee of experts due to be appointed following the inquiry report, and on Terms of Reference to implement those principles. This consultation process is an essential first step before the proposed roles of committee members are formulated.
“Fourth, I ask what should the international community now do? It is fitting that we are standing here in central London. Many of those threatening legal letters which bombarded Daphne in the final months and years of her life came from London law firms. Whilst that climate of impunity festered in Malta, the world stood idly by. The UK and other countries across Europe ignored what was happening under their noses, and left Daphne to her fate.
“On 6 October 2017, weeks before her death, Daphne wrote on her blog, ‘in journalism, as in many areas in life, you sometimes find the back-up you need a little too late.’ Well, one week ago the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two investigative journalists, one of whom, Maria Ressa, I am honoured to represent. The Norwegian Nobel Committee recognised their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, ‘a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.’
“The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to journalists is a welcome recognition of the bravery of journalists doing what Daphne Caruana Galizia did so brilliantly – holding the powerful and the corrupt to account. This is important back-up from the international community, albeit far too late for Daphne. In the decades leading up to her assassination, the world failed to act. They failed to act in 2017. Four years on, it is long past time for other States who clam to believe in the importance of freedom of expression – the UK, Council of Europe Member States, EU Member States, every single country which has signed up to the Media Freedom Coalition – to act. They failed Daphne then. Now, they must hold Malta to account and ensure the change Daphne’s family and Malta need and deserve comes to pass.”
The vigil for Daphne was co-sponsored by the Maltese community in London, ARTICLE 19, the Association of European Journalists, the Commonwealth Journalists Association, Index on Censorship, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, and Transparency International-UK.
12 July marks 1,000 days since the assassination of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. On this anniversary, we, the undersigned organisations, once again demand that all those involved in her murder and the corruption she exposed are brought to justice.
In recent weeks, yet more disturbing revelations of state corruption and impunity related to the case continue to emerge, underscoring the weaknesses in Malta’s rule of law, and entrenched impunity for both the murder of Caruana Galizia and the high-level abuses of power she investigated.
During a June 2020 hearing to compile evidence against murder suspect, Yorgen Fenech, the Magistrate ordered the police to investigate former Police Commissioner, Lawrence Cutajar for tipping off middleman, Melvin Theuma. Providing evidence in court, Theuma said Cutajar had informed him that he was under investigation both for the murder of Caruana Galizia and money laundering.
Former Deputy Commissioner and lead investigator, Silvio Valletta is also under investigation for his dealings with Yorgen Fenech, after he fell under suspicion.
At the public inquiry on 1 July, it emerged that the police had failed to take any action against Keith Schembri, in his previous capacity as Chief of Staff for former Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, and former Energy Minister, Konrad Mizzi after Carauna Galizia revealed they owned offshore Panama companies in 2016. Responding to the testimony of Assistant Commissioner, Ian Abdilla, who has recently been replaced as head of the Economic Crimes Unit, the board of inquiry expressed disbelief that the police had done “absolutely nothing” with regards to the Panama Papers.
On 7 July, sources confirmed that Attorney General, Peter Grech, as the chief prosecutor, sent a note to police in 2016 advising them against investigating the Panama Papers, stressing that such an investigation would be “highly intrusive.” Such direct and unambiguous instructions from the Attorney General to restrict the police investigation into the content of Caruana Galizia’s work violated the responsibility of his post and was a clear obstruction to the course of justice rendering his position as Attorney General untenable.
Investigations in Italy, France, Latvia and Montenegro have also revealed links to corruption related to Caruana Galizia’s investigations in Malta.
Had the corruption which Caruana Galizia exposed – including the Panama Papers – been fully investigated and prosecuted at the time, it could have reduced the risk and isolation that she faced as a journalist, including an orchestrated campaign of harassment and vilification by high-level political and business figures in Malta.
The appointment of a new head of Economic Crimes Unit, Alexandra Mamo, and the nomination of a new Police Commissioner, Angelo Gafà, present an opportunity for the Maltese authorities to commit to tackling long-standing failures to investigate and prosecute allegations of high-level corruption and to reform institutions. In addition, the 18 June Venice Commission opinion on the Maltese government’s rule of law reform proposals is a welcome sign that the Maltese Government recognises the need for fundamental reform.
Prime Minister, Robert Abela has stated that he expects police to investigate “all corners” of the assassination. Today, we reiterate our call that the Maltese authorities honour the legacy of Daphne Caruana Galizia and ensure that all of those implicated in her murder – from the hitmen to the masterminds – are brought to justice and the corruption she revealed is finally prosecuted. The authorities should now establish Joint Investigation Teams with foreign police forces tackling related issues, so that there can finally be an end to impunity in Malta, and full justice for Daphne.
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Free Press Unlimited
Index on Censorship
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]For those of you who are just catching up with the situation in Malta and the political upheaval, here’s a summary of some of the events Index and other organisations have been involved in over the past two years following the violent murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The killing of Daphne, a Maltese journalist investigating corruption at the highest levels of government, shocked the world. Since her death in 2017, Index, working with many other parties and journalists around the world, has piled pressure on the government of Malta, the EU and other international organisations to get justice and accountability for her murder.
An attack on any journalist is an attack on freedom and democracy. Below is a background to our interventions over the last two years, often working with Caruana Galizia’s family and other organisations, such as journalists in Malta.
Index strongly condemns the violent killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia https://t.co/BXmCF8Srcm
— Index on Censorship (@IndexCensorship) October 16, 2017
As Galizia’s murder was reported, Index immediately called for a swift investigation: “We urge the Maltese authorities to swiftly and thoroughly investigate the circumstances to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Galizia conducted investigations, among many others, linking Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle, to secret offshore bank accounts revealed by the Panama Papers.
Galizia was sued in March 2017 by a property developer who filed 19 libel cases against her. In February 2017, economic minister Chris Cardona and his EU presidency policy officer Joseph Gerada filed four libel suits against the journalist.
Index published an in-depth profile of Galizia, detailing her history of investigative journalism, the exceptional reach of her work in Malta and the litigious harassment she faced from those she investigated. One government minister’s lawyers questioned her “professional capacity as a journalist,” while Politico named her as one of “28 people who are shaping, shaking, and stirring Europe” thanks to her work on the Panama Papers.
Together with 15 other press freedom groups, Index signed a call for an immediate and independent investigation into her death.
Index on Censorship’s Hannah Machlin reads from an article by Daphne Caruana Galizia on the lack of respect for women in Malta. #NoImpunity pic.twitter.com/XWbg44RQxk
— Index on Censorship (@IndexCensorship) November 2, 2017
“Daphne Caruana Galizia’s work as a journalist to hold power to account and shine a light on corruption is vital to maintaining our democratic institutions. Her killing is a loss for her country and for Europe,” said Hannah Machlin, from Index’s Mapping Media Freedom project.
Index invited our supporters to join us at a vigil outside the Maltese High Commission in London.
The first wave of arrests were made in connection with the crime in early December, but Doughty Street Chambers, which specialises in international human rights, raised issues around the independence of the investigation in urgent legal advice to the family of Galizia.
Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said: “The advice raises extremely serious questions about the Maltese police, and Index believes that external, independent investigators must be appointed urgently.”
Three months on, Index took stock of events so far. Galizia’s family spoke at another vigil co-organised by Index, thanking us and other organisations for their continued support, and highlighting attempts to discredit her since her death.
Index joined a letter calling on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor the investigation into the murder
Amid reports that the Prime Minister of Malta was suing Matthew Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s son, over a Facebook post, Index joined an open letter to diplomats in Malta. The letter urged the diplomats make their presence felt by the government, saying: “Your engagement in this case is setting a standard and precedent for what is permissible in the European Union.”
Index on Censorship’s editor, Rachael Jolley, spoke alongside Daphne’s son Paul Caruana Galizia, and her fellow Maltese journalist Caroline Muscat of The Shift News at the Hay Festival in a panel chaired by the BBC’s Katya Adler.
The summer 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine published an article by Caroline Muscat, taking a closer look at the hidden underbelly of Valetta in Malta – that year’s European Capital of Culture.
Malta: Daphne Caruana Galizia’s son says the investigation into her murder could “shake up” the country’s establishment https://t.co/yxmMEG6Bf0
— Index on Censorship (@IndexCensorship) October 11, 2018
Approaching the first anniversary of Galizia’s death, Index spoke to her son, Paul Caruana Galizia:
“It’s a very personal thing what motivates a journalist to carry on writing in the face of all those threats and violence,” said Paul, “for my mother it was that you can’t just leave things alone, you can’t let injustice carry on, you can’t, in her words, just let people get away with it.”
Index also joined with other organisations in an open letter direct to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, calling for the establishment of a public inquiry.
Index published a profile of Caroline Muscat, a Maltese journalist whose work at online news project The Shift News has followed the spirit of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
“The Shift is journalism, but it is a movement too. Yes, I have an agenda. My agenda is press freedom, democracy, rule of law. We don’t have the luxury anymore to demand anything else. No, I don’t think The Shift will find the final piece of the puzzle that will solve Daphne’s murder. Such an expectation is unrealistic. All we can do is continue to investigate and contribute to adding pieces of the puzzle.” – Caroline Muscat.
Index joined again with eight other organisations to condemn the lack of justice for Daphne. The statement emphasised the need for full justice for Caruana Galizia’s murder, stating “Every person involved in the planning and carrying out of this heinous attack must be identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Index appealed to EU leaders ahead of a South EU Summit held in Malta. Writing together with other organisations, the letter reminded the recipients: “By signing the Sibiu Declaration, you have pledged to safeguard Europe’s democratic values and the rule of law. We therefore urge you to address the matter of safety of journalists and ongoing impunity in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia in your meeting with Prime Minister Muscat in Valletta on 14 June.”
Rachael Jolley, Index’s editor-in-chief, spoke at numerous panels at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. One focussed on ‘Harnessing journalism for justice in the murder of journalists’ and another was held with the editor of the Maltese news portal The Shift News, Caroline Muscat.
Ahead of the second anniversary of Caruana Galizia’s murder, Index released a statement lamenting the lack of action on the case, and the continued harassment of her family.
Joy Hyvarinen, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said: “It is appalling that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s brutal murder remains unsolved after two years and that the government of Malta has only now established an inquiry, and that it has done so in a way that raises serious questions about the independence of that inquiry. Index urges other European countries to make it clear to Malta that the inquiry must be independent.”
Index joined with other organisations on the second anniversary of the murder to spell out their demands for justice.
“Today, on 16 October 2019, we are gathering in vigils to remember Daphne Caruana Galizia and renew calls for justice in Valletta, London, Brussels, Berlin, and Vienna. We will continue our campaigning and our joint advocacy at international organisations such as PACE until all those involved in every aspect of this heinous attack are brought to justice – including the masterminds.
We urge the Maltese authorities to ensure that this is the very last anniversary that passes without full justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia.”
In late November and December 2019 a number of high-profile arrests and resignations from government were made. On 1 December Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced his intention to resign due to the crisis, once a new leader could be chosen for his party in January.
The situation continues to evolve and change follow journalists @theshiftnews and @pcaruanagalizia and @mcaruanagalizia for up-to-date news.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]