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19.09.2018

The two-faced approach to a journalist murder

A commentary by Iris Rohmann

Iris Rohmann, winner of the German Reporter Forum’s Daphne Caruana Galizia grant, is travelling between Germany and Malta to investigate the circumstances of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder. This is her update after a week of talks with citizens, journalists and activists in Malta.

Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial Boarded up and closed off, the makeshift Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial in Valletta (photo: Jonathan Borg)

The end of the Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial

In the aftermath of the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder on October 16, 2017, people started to put flowers, candles and notes at the foot of the Grand Siege Memorial in Valletta to commemorate the journalist. Since then, the spontaneous memorial has been cleared away twenty times, only to be replaced overnight. But on September 7, 2018 the memorial as a whole was boarded up and closed off, 'for restoration reasons', said the official statement of Culture Minister Owen Bonnici on Facebook. The last time the Grand Siege Memorial was renovated in 2010. My enquiry about whether there is a building permit and since when the renovation was planned remains unanswered until today.

Every month on the 16th, protesters gather at the makeshift memorial which stands just opposite the court-house on Republic Street in the centre of Valletta. From Day One it became a battleground.

“It is a place of conflict, because even the flowers and the candles and the posters that we have put at the memorial, they have been taken down more than ten times,” Rohmann quotes an activist interviewed on August 26. "We get mocked, as well, for caring and for trying to do something. But it is also a place of courage, and our way of showing that we are not complicit, and that Daphne will not be forgotten". 

Obviously, the current actions are supposed to stop people from bringing candles and flowers to the memorial as the street is packed with tourists from all over the world. Many of them find out about the Caruana Galizia murder for the first time because of the memorial. They told me this themselves, when I was there. The Maltese government doesn’t appreciate this kind of international attention.

Facebook groups were celebrating the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia

While PM Joseph Muscat said into the cameras how shocked he was by the murder of the journalist, his followers were celebrating it on Facebook at the same time, in closed groups administered by the ruling Labour party. Administrators of these groups are government workers as well as ministers and government employees such as Neville Gafa, who puts a particular venom into his hate.

Caroline Muscat, editor-in-chief of The Shift News says: "They were celebrating her death. There were images with glasses of champagne, with words like: 'Let her burn in hell', or: 'She can’t even rest in peace because she will be in pieces', 'What comes around, goes around', 'She deserved it' - horrific language. The façade that Joseph Muscat gave to the world was completely devoid of reality".

I saw hundreds of these comments. These are not isolated cases. And those comments are spread and shared all over the groups. Neither the Maltese government nor the Labour Party sanctioned this, nor were the posts taken down. They are visible to this day. To some extent it is even the administrators themselves, who start attacks on critics, and government staff like the afore-mentioned Neville Gafa, will actively spread them.

Shift News Caruana Galizia trolls Facebook users celebrating the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia (photo: Shift News)

The Shift’s research proves the double game that the Maltese government is playing. When I confronted the administration asking why those posts are still up and why they are not comdemned, why the admins are not keeping the ethical standard, I got no answer.

David Lindsay, Editor-in-Chief of the "Malta Independent" says: "Of course there is no official press release saying, Daphne Caruana Galizia is a liar and a witch. No one can do that, if they did that, then even the EU would do something. But individual MPs and trolls, that is different. They have an online army, then it goes out into the bars, cafes, restaurants - that’s where the hate-campaign happens. There is of course no official statement against Daphne. But when she was dead, the Prime Minister invited his supporters on the 1st of May. He said: 'Come and show up in numbers. Then we will give our answer to the Caruana Galizia family. We will give our answer to the Daphne Project."

Some days before Prime Minister Muscat had threatened those 'who tarnish Malta's reputation' with repercussions. What he meant by that was left open. At least 20,000 of his followers came to the event. The message was: We give love, others want hate. But of course it is exactly the opposite.

The witch-hunt continues

After the publications in The Shift News in mid-May, Caroline Muscat [the Editor-in-Chief] became a new target. She was verbally attacked in parliament by a Labour deputy who accused her of being on the payroll of the opposition. Rosianne Cutajar added: „Daphne Caruana Galizia died unfortunately, but the seed of her hate is still alive in Caroline Muscat, and we are experiencing it every day. This is Daphne Caruana Galizia´s legacy.” Since this attack was broadcasted live on TV, Muscat has been targeted more and more, she says.

“When a Labour MP stands up in parliament and says something linking me to Daphne like this, it is a message. It is in itself an encouragement. They keep setting up new targets including other activists, and it is a government campaign. Make no mistake.”

In August, offensive memes appeared in the Facebook groups, the journalist reports. "One of those memes had a photograph of Daphne and said, 'We got rid of one witch' and beneath her was a photo of me, which said, 'And here another one appears'. And then a comment beneath that meme said, 'Then this one deserves a few more bombs'.

Neither the post nor the comments have been deleted.

At the beginning of September, Caroline Muscat was driven out and banned from a shop in Valletta. The woman at the counter said, "Aren’t you that journalist? I won’t sell you anything. Get out." By her enemies Daphne Caruana Galizia was often called "witch of Bidnija". She was called names in the street and threatened. Now the witch-hunt continues, under the knowing eyes of the Maltese government.

The masterminds of the assassination – will they ever be brought to justice?

The bomb attack was a hired assassination. The defendants on trial obviously didn’t have a motive. For ten months now there has been no information about whether and how they are searching for the alleged masterminds. 

Tim Diacono of "Lovin Malta" says: "There are investigations, we do not know in which form, if the FBI is still involved, how many police officers there are. The police confirm this, but no details are given about any progress, what level they are at, what stage they are at. Nothing. They are answering no questions at all [...] "Maybe," Diacono adds, "they might have a legitimate reason for doing so in order not to compromise investigations".

In combination with a legal opinion Caruana Galizia’s family is demanding an independent investigation of the murder. The family lawyers write, that until now nothing has been done to find the masterminds.

A (provisional) reply from the Chief Prosecutor doesn’t give any answers. Instead it says, "We must express our disappointment that you consider the Government to be hostile to Ms. Caruana Galizia´s family ... We have done nothing but work diligently with international law enforcement ... to track down and bring to justice those responsible ... Three suspects have already been brought to court accused of committing this crime and investigations as to who else was involved are ongoing." 

David Lindsay, Editor-in-Chief of the "Malta Independent" says, "The situation is bizarre because the very same politicians that Daphne was writing about are now the ones who are supposed to investigate her murder. There has never been an independent investigation in Malta, and I don’t see one happening. The family will have to go to Strasbourg, to the European Court  of Human Rights. They have a long journey ahead of them."

Hostility towards the family: where is Daphne's laptop? 

  • while taking evidence the police only confiscated one old tablet
  • voices from inside the government started asking for the laptop (such as Joseph Caruana and Neville Gafa)
  • rumours started saying that the family was holding back the laptop to boycott the murder investigation
  • Further rumours spread saying that the family took part in the murder. These were evil and offensive statements
  • administration official Glenn Bedingfield openly said, "The laptop is the key to the investigation. If they [i.e. the family] really want justice to prevail, why are they keeping important evidence from the investigators? ... Maybe we will start seeing some banners asking ‘Where is that laptop?´”
  • one hour later the first banners and posters appeared
  • later on the administration denied any involvement

Read more ...

Where is Daphne's laptop Banner "Where is Daphne's laptop" (photo: Manuel Delia)

Tim Diacono, political editor of „Lovin Malta“ says, "No one knows how much information actually is on that laptop. But the government accuses the family of hindering the investigation. This argument is hypocritical. And it made clear how easy it is for people to be manipulated by politicians, instead of thinking for themselves.”

On August 24 the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), who received the laptop from the Caruana Galizia family, wrote to me: „The data carrier was evaluated by the BKA. Until now there has been no official request by the Maltese authorities“.

The murder trial: as much delay as possible

Since they were arrested all three defendants and alleged assailants have remained silent and pleaded not guilty. Overall, since December 2017 there is no new information. Instead there are even more obstacles. 

Even though the alleged culprits were registered as unemployed and were being granted state support for several years, they own luxury cars and send their children to costly private schools. How this could be overlooked by the authorities is another unanswered question. The three criminals are known members of Maltese organised crime, but they have never been convicted. One of the defendants was wiretapped for months ahead of the murder attack. He never mentioned anything suspicious, police say.

From the very beginning and in many ways the defence lawyers did everything to delay the take evidence proceedings. And they still do.

° The first two judges had to go after objection for partiality. A bias petition was also filed and rejected against the third judge Claire Stafrace Zammit.

  • The first two judges had to go after objection for partiality. A bias petition was also filed and rejected against the third judge Claire Stafrace Zammit
  • the prison conditions were criticised and it was considered that they violated  human rights
  • sick notes
  • constitutional complaints
  • request to exclude the FBI forensic experts of because they collaborated with a controversial Maltese expert. It was mostly the FBI who worked out the chain of evidence
  • Chief Judge Anthony Vella was „kicked up the ladder“ off the case in June
  • despite overwhelming evidence the defence lawyers call for a release on bail because of „presumption of innocence“
  • request to postpone another trial, for a bankrobbery because the defendant wouldn’t stand a chance of a fair trial

After 20 months, if the taking of evidence isn’t completed, the defendants have to be released.

All in all, it feels like watching a bad play.