On Sunday 1 December, Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat announced that he will resign next month following protests over a 2017 car bombing that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, a prominent anti-corruption journalist. Mr Muscat was under pressure to quit over his former top aide’s alleged links to the killing of the journalist. The resignation is a step in the right direction to end impunity for crimes against journalists.
Mr Muscat said in a televised message: “I will write to the president of the Labour Party so that the process for a new leader is set for 12 January 2020. On that day I will resign as leader of the Labour Party. In the days after I will resign as prime minister[…] Malta needs to start a new chapter and only I can give that signal.”
On Saturday 1 December 2019, the PM’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri was accused of attempting to frame a cabinet member for the crime. The allegations emerged after a cabinet meeting on Thursday 28 November, when ministers were shown a letter in which Mr Schembri was said to have encouraged Yorgen Fenech, a gambling tycoon and one of Malta’s wealthiest men, to pin the blame for the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia on the economy minister, Chris Cardona.
Mr Fenech, 38, was charged on Saturday 1 December with Caruana Galizia’s murder. He denies the accusation. Fenech was charged after the government turned down his request for immunity from prosecution in return for revealing information about the murder plot and alleged corruption involving, among others, Mr Muscat’s ex-chief of staff Keith Schembri and ex-tourism minister Konrad Mizzi.
“It was chilling. I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” the Times of Malta quoted an unnamed minister as saying about Thursday’s cabinet meeting.
The incoming EU commissioner responsible for overseeing the rule of law, Vera Jourova, asked the Maltese government for an urgent meeting on Friday 29 November and an urgent delegation from the European parliament will arrive in Valletta on 3 December for a two-day mission to evaluate the functioning of rule of law.
A commission spokesman said: “We need to send a clear signal to all journalists: it is safe to work in Europe. If journalists are silenced, so is democracy. Media freedom, pluralism, and the protection of journalists are at the very base of a free and democratic society.”
Protesters calling for justice
Several thousand protesters marched through Valletta, Malta’s capital, on Sunday 1 December, to call for Mr Muscat’s immediate resignation and justice for Caruana Galizia, who attacked government corruption on her blog, blocking streets and congregating outside the courts, at a memorial for her and in front of a Labour Party club.
Fury over Mr Muscat’s handling of the crisis grew over the weekend when businessman Yorgen Fenech was charged with complicity in the murder. They were holding candles, waving Malta’s red and white flag, and singing the national anthem, marking the conclusion of an emotional and angry demonstration.
Marchers carried placards reading: “Joseph Muscat you have blood on your hands,” “The situation is still desperate,” and “mafia”.
Civil society groups behind the protest said the prime minister had to go because he was “an obstacle to justice”. It was the eighth demonstration on the case to be held in 12 days and a further protest was announced for today 2 December.
The murdered journalist’s family said the prime minister had been left deeply compromised and should resign because he had failed, for the past two years, to take action to clean up politics in Malta. They argued that as long as he remained in place, a full investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death was not possible.
Caruana Galizia’s work
Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist, writer, and anti-corruption activist, who reported on political events in Malta. In particular, she focused on investigative reporting into government corruption, nepotism, patronage, allegations of money laundering, links between Malta’s online gambling industry and organized crime, Malta’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, and payments from the government of Azerbaijan.
Her national and international reputation was built on her regular reporting of misconduct by Maltese politicians and politically exposed persons. For decades, she refused to give up on her reporting despite intimidation and threats, libels and other lawsuits. Caruana Galizia was arrested by the Malta Police Force on two occasions
Before her death, Daphne Caruana Galizia had been investigating a Dubai company owned by Mr Fenech that was reportedly due to pay money into offshore accounts owned by Mr Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, 42, a former energy minister, after the government had handed Mr Fenech a deal to run a power station.
On 16 October 2017, Caruana Galizia died in a car bomb attack close to her home, attracting widespread local and international reactions. In April 2018, a consortium of 45 international journalists published The Daphne Project, a collaboration to complete her investigative work.