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Friday, September 24, 2021
BRATISLAVA, Aug 3 2021 (IPS) - The family of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has called for “lessons to be learnt” after an independent inquiry found that the Maltese state bore responsibility for her death.
Caruana Galizia, Malta’s most prominent investigative journalist, was killed by a car bomb in October 2017 outside her home in the village of Bidnija. Her investigations had exposed high-level government corruption linked to businesses.
The inquiry findings into the killing released last week delivered a damning verdict of the state’s role in her murder.
In a 457-page report, the inquiry panel of one serving and two retired judges, said that her death had been preventable, and that responsibility lay with the state for creating “an atmosphere of impunity… which led to the collapse of the rule of law”.
Summing up their findings, they said: “….acts, certainly illicit if not illegal, were committed by persons within State entities that created an environment that facilitated the assassination. This even by failing to do their duty to act promptly and effectively to give proper protection to the journalist.”
Andrew Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s son, told IPS: “The findings of the report are an enormous vindication for us, although it is painful to see it recognised that my mother’s death could have been prevented.
“But what is most important is that lessons be learnt from these findings and to make sure that no journalist in Malta will suffer the same fate as my mother.”
Caruana Galizia’s murder made headlines worldwide, focusing attention on the rule of law in Malta and journalist safety and highlighting the murky links between Maltese politicians and big business, which she was investigating.
Prosecutors claim local businessman Yorgen Fenech, who had close links to senior government officials, masterminded the murder. Fenech, one of two men awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the murder, denies responsibility.
The Prime Minister at the time of her killing, Josef Muscat, was also eventually forced to resign after investigations implicated close contacts of his in the killing.
The inquiry highlighted alleged links between the Maltese government and criminals and how that encouraged the killers. The inquiry’s report stated that: “What is impressive in this case is the severity and extent of this impunity at the highest levels which made those who committed the crime feel safe in doing so.
“Another shocking factor was the fact that all the institutions in the country failed to react appropriately and effectively to counteract this impunity as they were duty-bound to do, a shortcoming which can be attributed precisely to the ties which were exploited between those in power and those who advanced their dubious interests.”
And it called for steps to be taken immediately to bring in checks on ties between politicians and big business.
It also recommended a series of measures be implemented to increase journalism safety.
Press freedom watchdogs, who, along with Caruana Galizia’s family and international groups, had campaigned for years for an independent investigation into the killing, said it was vital action was taken to create a safer environment for journalists to work.
Jamie Wiseman, Europe Advocacy Officer at the International Press Institute (IPI), told IPS: “It is crucial that steps are taken to improve the environment for the safety of journalists, including the introduction of legislation criminalising violence against journalists, condemnation by state officials of all attacks against media workers, and the establishment of a journalist safety committee composed of government officials, media representatives, civil society and the security services.
“Serious implementation of these changes would go a long way to ensuring the tragic killing of a journalist never occurs again in Malta.”
But groups like IPI are hoping the inquiry and its findings will also have an effect beyond just journalists and journalism in Malta.
Caruana Galizia’s assassination drew almost unprecedented international attention in part because it took place in an EU country.
At the time, Europe was seen as one of the safest places for journalists to work in the world.
Since then, there have been other prominent killings of journalists in the EU, including that of Jan Kuciak in Slovakia just a few months after Caruana Galizia was murdered, and in the last few months Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece, and Peter de Vries in the Netherlands.
Fears have been raised about growing violence against journalists in Europe, stoked by aggressive rhetoric and clampdowns on media freedom by populist leaders in many countries, including Hungary, Poland, and Serbia.
In the case of Kuciak’s murder specifically, press freedom and rights organisations said repeated verbal attacks and denigration of journalists may have emboldened the killers.
Rob Mahoney, Deputy Executive Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the inquiry’s findings would send out a message to those who believe they can kill, threaten, and attempt to silence journalists with impunity.
“It is a very important first step on the road to ending a poisonous culture of impunity, particularly in the European Union. Journalists need the rule of law and an independent judiciary to fulfil their function of providing information to citizens in a democracy. This inquiry underscores that.
“I hope it will show the public how without brave investigative journalists, crime and corruption at the highest levels of government and business will run rampant.”
Andrew Caruana Galizia added: “One tragic finding from the inquiry was that it confirmed that at the time of my mother’s death, Malta was in the process of being taken over by mafia organisations, and that the only thing that stopped that happening was the death of my mother and the people demanding change after that.
“There is similar corruption and state capture by criminal groups in other parts of Europe, so what is happening here could send a message to other countries [where a similar process might be underway].”
Meanwhile, press freedom groups point out that while the inquiry’s findings have confirmed much of what they have said for years was linked to Daphne’s death, such as issues around the rule of law and the creation of an environment that allowed a journalist to be killed, they, and her family, are still waiting for full justice for her murder to be served.
So far, only one person has been sentenced in connection with the killing – earlier this year, a man pleaded guilty to taking part and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, told IPS: “What must be remembered is that this is separate from the criminal investigation and the people behind Daphne’s killing need to be brought to full justice. The inquiry is a crucial step towards justice – but it is just a step.”
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