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31.05.2018

Malta: "Who will be next?"

Iris Rohmann, winner of the Daphne Caruana Galizia grant from the German Reporter Forum, just got back from Malta, where she is investigating the circumstances of the Caruana Galizia murder on 16 October 2017. She gave us a short roundup of what she found out in just one week.

Malta The field where Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in Malta (photo: Iris Rohmann)

In mid-May 2018, I was travelling to Malta to talk to citizens, journalists and activists. My first conclusion is that the situation in Malta is alarming. And it is critical when it comes to the protection of press freedom and the rule of law. Just in the few days of my visit the number of attacks on critics of the Maltese government left me speechless. All of them remain unpunished.

Malta is a dangerous country, Corinne Vella, the sister of murdered Daphne Caruana Galizia told me. "If you criticise a government, this is criticism and not an attack. This is a big difference. An attack is a car bomb, a gunshot is a murder. So there are critical attacks and there is criticism. We have to make that distinction. Unless people in the government accept that criticism is a normal part of a functioning democracy, Malta is going to remain a dangerous place."

Those attacks are happening unwatched by international observers. Here is a selection:

The blog of Manuel Delia, a blogger critical of the government, (Truth be Told) was hacked and taken down for 15 hours, on May 16th, seven months to the day after Caruana Galizia was assassinated. A second cyberattack followed on Saturday, May 19th, and again the site was down for a whole day. It costs a lot in effort and money to provide protection for the website and other security measures, but Delia and his family have received severe threats.

On the same day, in the afternoon of May 16th, Daphne Caruana Galizia and Caroline Muscat, a journalist at The Shift [Malta’s only investigative online daily] were verbally attacked in Parliament by MP Rosianne Cutajar. This attack was aired on TV. She said that Muscat was carrying on with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s hate campaign. This kind of political targeting obviously happens a lot in Malta, not only under the current administration.

The background of this attack is that The Shift just published an investigation that lasted six months into closed Facebook groups run by Malta's Labour party, where people are inciting violence against activists. These groups have all in all about 60,000 members. One of them is called "Labour – until death".

In mid-April anti-corruption activist Tina Urso was protesting against Malta's Premier Joseph Muscat and his wife in London where they took part in a reception at Henley & Partners, the company at the heart of a citizenship-for-sale scandal. Her name was shared in those Facebook groups. Within an hour, her photo and the address of her family home in Malta also appeared. This was followed by a "call to action", with someone demanding that she be raped. No Facebook admin intervened. Despite Urso filing two police reports nothing happened. Only when she was represented by a lawyer an investigation was started, however, without any results until now. 

The dimension and co-ordination of these Facebook groups is exceptional, Shift writes. Several of the admins are high-ranking administration officals. In the very same groups the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia is still being celebrated today.

Journalist and friend of Caruana Galizia, Caroline Muscat says: "When you see that the government is spending less and less effort on finding the masterminds behind the alleged killers, then your next question is: Who will be next?"

Through his spokesperson Premier Joseph Muscat roundly condemned online hate but he remains a member of those groups, along with financial minister Scicluna, economy minister Cardona and a lot of members of Parliament, like above mentioned MP Rosianne Cutajar.

A new shtick targeted an unusual victim, two weeks ago: on Facebook, trolls declared an article by Ranier Fsadni as spam until it was deleted. Fsadni is an unusual target for the journalist has an untainted reputation, never takes part in protests, is very independent and always trying to write balanced and fair articles. When I asked him about this attack he replied dryly: "I've been expecting this."

Right now, Facebook groups are discrediting Occupy Justice by accusing them of being responsible for the attempted murder of a policeman who is still in hospital, badly wounded. The reason: On a poster used at a protest months ago it said "Fuck the police". Also, the activists are urging the chief of police to step down. Clemence Dujardin of Occupy Justice stressed in an interview with me how horrific these online attacks are. "We ask him to resign, not to be killed."

Climate of fear and pressure

All these attacks and spins created a climate of fear and pressure among members of the free press and those who stand for democratic rights. Protests have been going on for seven months now. There are a lot international publications on Daphne Caruana Galizia's case and a couple of prizes in her name as well as special rapporteurs, that have been sent to Malta. However, nothing has changed. And the pressure on journalists is increasing.

At the celebration of 1 May, Muscat said that there are people sowing hate in Malta, but that he and his government would stand for love and unity. He also promised the construction of 500 council flats, financed by the controversial programme of selling Maltese citizenship. Peace love and harmony is only available for those who stand with "King Joseph".

To quote Daphne Caruana Galizia: "Yes, there are some people around who understand that a journalist giving a government a hard time is not the same thing as a government giving a journalist a hard time. The first is democracy, the second is abuse, harassment and intimidation."

 

Please find here an article about the video installation "We want the truth" by Joanna Vortmann, dedicated to Daphne Caruana Galizia
 
Malta Maltese citizens gathering at the Daphne Caruana Galizia memorial in Valletta, Malta, which has been deliberately destroyed again and again (photo: Iris Rohmann)




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