Seven hundred and thirty days ago, Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally assassinated in a carefully planned attack that to date has not been solved.
One of Malta’s most prominent figures, Daphne spent her life and career unearthing the rot that runs right to the heart of Maltese government. Her website, ‘Running Commentary’ detailed the corruption and nepotism that is still rife, getting up to half a million visitors a day in a country of just over 400,000. Then on the 16 October 2017 she was silenced forever.
Her last words before her assassination, posted on her blog site are as true today as they were then; “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.
As Daphne drove away from her home in Bidnija moments after pressing “publish”, two bombs exploded underneath the chassis, killing her instantly and catapulting her car, and her through the air and into a nearby field. Her son Matthew heard the explosion and ran barefoot from his house towards the flaming wreckage before trying to pull what was left of his mother’s body from the car.
“I’ve never been to a battlefield, but that’s how I imagine it. Pieces of flesh, fire everywhere. Even the road was on fire,” he said in a subsequent interview.
On the day she was murdered, Daphne was on her way to the bank to ask for her assets to be released after Minister of the Economy, Chris Cardona had frozen them as a part of a spurious lawsuit he had lodged.
Caruana Galizia had published that she had evidence he and a government aide had attended a brothel in Velbert whilst on government business. He sued and It remains as one of the 30 posthumous cases still active against her. Cardona denies the allegations but has repeatedly asked the court not to include his phone records and GPRS data which would prove with certainty whether he was in fact in flagrante with prostitutes on the night in question.
But this was just one of the many stories that could have resulted in someone taking a hit out on her.
She ruthlessly investigated the Panama Papers, publishing details of the Prime Ministers Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and the Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi’s secret offshore companies. These companies were set up to receive some $5000 per day, each, from a third company 17 Black which was owned by Yorgen Fenech, a member of a consortium including the Azeri State-owned energy company Socar. A deal had been struck with the ruling family of Azerbaijan, at a great financial detriment to the Maltese taxpayers to provide Malta with liquid natural gas at a price way above the market rate.
Both ministers are still in their jobs and are fighting tooth and nail to stop a magisterial inquiry into their dealings. Daphne also published evidence of Schembri receiving kickbacks as a part of the countries controversial cash-for-passport scheme and implicated Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife, Michelle as the owner of a third company ‘Egrant’ embroiled in alleged money laundering.
The Muscat’s sued Caruana Galizia and ordered a magisterial inquiry into whether his wife owned Egrant, handpicking the magistrate and deciding the scope of the investigation himself. When the inquiry found that his wife did not own Egrant, he refused to publish the full report yet tried to blackmail the Caruana Galizia family by telling them he would drop the lawsuit if they would publicly state that their mother had lied. They refused and the case continues with her family standing by every word that she wrote.
Prior to her murder, hate for Daphne was whipped up into a frenzy by government ministers and officials who dehumanised her, and by secret Facebook groups that coordinated verbal and online attacks. As discovered by The Shift News, these groups members included Joseph Muscat, his ministers and employees, the President of Malta, Marie Louise Coliero Preca and thousands of obedient Labour Party supporters.
In order to join, one must submit a copy of their party membership card and be prepared to launch trolling attacks on journalists, critics, and members of civil society. Their activities continue today against anyone who dares to call for justice or criticises the incumbent regime.
She was demonised, vilified, and harassed. Previous attacks on her included her dog having its throat slit and someone trying to burn her house down whilst she and her family slept inside. She had notified the police of threats against her days before her death yet was not being protected. She also published she was being stalked by ruling Labour Party employee Neville Gafa, himself involved in an alleged Libya-Malta visa racket.
When she died and on each anniversary, staunch Labour Party members, employees and even ministers celebrated. In between they mock, share memes and some have even accused her sons of being complicit in her murder. Those who had something to fear from her work celebrate her death and others are determined on stamping out her memory with a campaign of vicious lies and hate.
Since her murder, a makeshift memorial was set up outside the law courts in Valletta. Each night, on orders of the government, the flowers, candles, and pictures are removed, yet every morning they are replaced by a team of dedicated activists. Journalists and press freedom advocates who have visited the site have been assaulted, abused, and have received death threats.
Furthermore, journalists who report on developments in the quest for justice, or that have picked up the gauntlet to continue her investigations, now find themselves at risk. Caroline Muscat, winner of the Reporters Without Borders 2019 Independence award set up online news portal The Shift News shortly after Daphne’s assassination. She has found herself being targeted by those who once harassed Daphne- lawsuits, trolling, memes saying she “deserves more bombs”- these things are all part of a normal day for her in Malta.
When asked about why she continues the fight, Caroline tells me; “It’s important that journalists engage in the fight for the defence of press freedom and the role of the press in a democracy. When one of us is assassinated, we have a duty to lend our voice to demands for justice.”
“As long as impunity reigns and justice is denied, journalists are made more vulnerable and the public’s right to know is threatened,” she added.
The lack of justice and the unwillingness of the Maltese government to investigate who masterminded the attack sets a worrying precedent for journalists and the freedom of the media across not just Europe but the world.
Since the day she was murdered, the Maltese government has done everything in its power to avoid justice being served. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who is posthumously suing Caruana Galizia and her grieving family, and who was the subject of many of her investigations, famously declared that the investigation into her murder would leave no stone unturned.
Two years later, three known criminals have been arrested but are yet to face trial. The mastermind has not been apprehended and not one politician or government member, many of which were implicated in her investigations, has been interviewed in connection with her death.
Citing European human rights law, her family, civil society, and international press freedom organisations have demanded an independent public inquiry into her assassination, but the Maltese government refused.
Finally, a Council of Europe resolution, spearheaded by Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt demanded they start an inquiry into whether the state could have prevented her murder. The Maltese government finally relented but appointed a board consisting of individuals that are either connected to the government, are supporters of the ruling Labour Party or rely on the government for their income.
The Maltese government claim there is no conflict of interest, the international community says otherwise.
In a statement issued yesterday, Omtzigt said “Her legacy in Malta will be measured in the truth and justice that she pursued throughout her life: by convicting and punishing her killers, and those who ordered her death; by ending impunity for corruption and the climate of fear for journalists; and by guaranteeing respect for the rule of law amongst the institutions and offices of state.”
Meanwhile, in Malta, the situation is truly desperate. Those that dare to continue to write, investigate and campaign, all against an increasingly hostile environment. Government trolls relentlessly attack those who defend Daphne and criticise the government, and many live in fear that they could be next.
Malta fell 32 places in the RSF Press Freedom Index in just two years- a testament to the way in which impunity for her assassination is having a chilling effect on journalism in the tiny EU Member State.
I am sad to say that her assassination came as no surprise. The way she wrote and the bravery with which she conducted her work made her a prime target for those who wanted their dirty dealings to remain concealed.
When the news broke of her assassination, I feared for my safety and the safety of my family- suddenly the threats I had received and brushed off over the years started to become rather more real. But more than anything, I felt for her family- her husband, parents, sisters and the three sons she left behind who now spend every waking hour fighting for justice.
Daphne Caruana Galizia was an inspiration. She was the reason I started writing publicly, the reason I became a journalist, and the reason I found strength a million times to continue in my work. Every word I write and will ever write, I dedicate to her and the legacy of courage that she left behind.
In Albania, it concerns me greatly that the actions of Prime Minister Edi Rama and his ministers is creating a situation where the murder of a journalist could occur. Attacks on media workers are frequent and justice is fleeting. Those who tackle stories implicating the government and its links to organised crime regularly find themselves smeared, harassed, intimidated, or even losing their job. The language used against journalists by Rama and his cronies is perpetuating a climate of fear and a situation where, unless they stop behaving in this way, it is only a matter of time before a journalist loses their life.
In a world where corrupt, autocratic, self-serving governments and businessmen work tirelessly to undermine independent media that seek to hold them to account, it is our duty to be strong, to continue, and to remember those, like Daphne, who gave their lives in the pursuit of truth.