On 20 September 2019, the government of Malta issued a statement announcing the launch of a public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed by a car bomb outside her home in Bidnija, Malta on 16 October 2017. The announcement came just six days prior to the deadline set by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in a resolution adopted on 26 June 2019, giving the Maltese authorities a three-month window to establish an independent public inquiry.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family reacted to the announcement, emphasising that “A Public Inquiry chaired by a respected former judge is what all right-minded people have been calling for since our mother’s and wife’s assassination,” and noting that “The Board will be unfit for purpose if the public has reason to doubt any of its wider members’ independence or impartiality.” RSF supports the family’s request for a meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to discuss their concerns.
RSF has long called for the launch of a public inquiry, including through extensive advocacy at PACE, and led an international freedom of expression mission to Malta in October 2018, raising the issue directly with senior government officials including Prime Minister Muscat.
“The establishment of a public inquiry is long overdue, and is an essential step towards justice for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. This is the result of the sustained advocacy efforts of her family and civil society groups for nearly two years. But a public inquiry that lacks independence and impartiality will fool no one - and the goal remains full justice for this heinous assassination. We will remain vigilant and scrutinise the composition and actions of the Board of Inquiry, and act to hold the Maltese government to account for its international obligations,” said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.
Daphne Caruana Galizia was Malta’s most prominent journalist, known for her public interest investigative reporting exposing corruption at the highest levels of government in Malta and beyond, including her reporting on the Panama Papers. Although three men have been arraigned in connection with her assassination, they have not yet been brought to trial, and there has been no further tangible progress in the criminal investigation. The masterminds behind this heinous attack continue to walk free nearly two years on.
On 19 September, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic published an exchange of letters with Prime Minister Muscat calling for the dozens of posthumous defamation lawsuits that continue against Daphne Caruana Galizia to be withdrawn, and for the repeal of the provisions that allow for defamation cases to be passed to heirs. RSF has frequently highlighted the vexatious nature of these lawsuits as one of many forms of ongoing pressure against the family and others working towards justice for the assassination.
RSF and members of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family and legal team will be addressing this case, the matter of the public inquiry, and the broader worrying press freedom climate in Malta at a side event at PACE on 30 September, organised with the kind support of the Justice for Journalists Foundation.
Malta is ranked 77th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 30 places over the past two years.