Monday marks six months since Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist, was killed in a car bombing near her home. The crime remains unsolved, reflecting an apparent lack of urgency on the part of the local authorities. As a result, the murder of this highly respected reporter is already having a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the European Union, which until recently had been considered the region of the world where journalists could most reliably count on their safety.
“There are many threats to journalism around the world – repressive governments, terrorist groups, economic shifts – but surely one of the greatest threats to journalism is impunity,” Michael De Dora of the Committee to Protect Journalists told me.
Caruana Galizia made many enemies. Her stories often drove the local news cycle. In an island nation with fewer than half a million inhabitants, she played an outsized role in the public discourse, raising the ire of some of the country’s most powerful people.
Malta has become a haven for money launderers, and Caruana Galizia was relentless in reporting on the issue, exposing links between officials and organized crime networks.
The country’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, was often a focus of her work, especially in her reporting on the Panama Papers. Muscat responded by doing everything he could to make Caruana Galizia’s life more difficult. He sued her for libel. Subsequently her bank accounts were frozen and countless articles were commissioned to smear her reputation.
But she was undeterred. That is not to say she was unaware of the the risks she faced. In fact she understood them all too well, but she continued with her work of exposing corruption at the highest levels of government.
She wrote about the threats she faced, attempting to explain to her readers why officials were seeking to silent dissenting voices in the press. This resurgence of authoritarian attitudes, lately encountered a new generation of journalists on both sides of the Atlantic (and indeed around the world), was one she believed she had to fight.
“The ongoing right-wing debate seeks to equate politicians with journalists, as though they are equal enemies on a level playing field,” Caruana Galizia wrote in February 2017. “That is how fascist governments and politicians seek legitimacy for their attacks on journalists, whether in the collective, or when picking out single targets, as is happening with me in Malta.”
The threats became more persistent. Just two weeks before she was murdered she filed a police report, citing harassment from local officials. Law enforcement officials in Malta now deny ever receiving such a complaint, furthering speculation that the government will not undertake a serious investigation into her death.
“Too often authorities kick off an investigation with a flurry of activity, and even arrests of some suspects, only to see those investigations trail off once public and international pressure begins to falter,” De Dora said.
In this instance, 10 arrests were made, and three suspects were put on trial. Caruana Galizia’s family, however, believes that all of this is part of a cover-up.
The suspects, who were arrested based on police intercepts that suggest they used a cellphone to detonate the bomb that killed Caruana Galizia, were all detained and have been interrogated separately. They have been offered plea deals that could include pardons if convicted, but none of them is cooperating with the prosecution, suggesting that they had made prior arrangements with those behind the attack in case they were arrested.
This problem is not unique to Malta. Media freedom advocacy groups say that the killers go free in nine out of every 10 cases in which journalists are murdered.
When Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee were killed in their home in February, Prime Minister Robert Fico was pressured into resigning. The investigation there, though, has so far led nowhere. From the earliest stages of the crime scene there were concerns that evidence was being doctored or removed.
In Malta, where Caruana Galizia is revered by a public who considered her their greatest ally in the fight against corrupt leaders, a memorial dedicated to her near the country’s main courthouse in Valletta, the capital, has been removed more than 10 times. It appears authorities there are attempting, in vain, to erase her and her legacy from the collective memory.
“The price that they pay for silencing a journalist has to become higher than the price the powerful pay from what journalists uncover through their work,” says Carauna Galizia’s eldest son, Matthew. “Right now it’s cheaper to kill or imprison a journalist than to endure the costs of what their investigations bring to light.”
Like his mother, Matthew Caruana Galizia, 32, is a journalist. He was among those awarded a Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism for his role in the Panama Papers expose authored by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Currently he and his two younger brothers are living in Britain and Switzerland, as they’ve been advised that Malta is no longer a safe place for them to be.
Matthew Caruana Galizia came to the United States recently seeking support from advocacy groups as well as the U.S. government, which he believes can be an important ally in his family’s struggle for justice. One possible scenario is sanctions on those implicated in the corruption cases his mother’s work exposed, who may also be involved in her murder.
“The U.S. government has the tools to hit human rights offenders where it hurts,” he says. “You can’t disentangle corruption from human rights violations. The two issues enable one another.”