15:44, September 19 37 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-19 15:44:04
Malta urged to drop libel lawsuits against Daphne Caruana Galizia

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner has urged Malta to drop libel lawsuits against murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, according to a letter to the country’s leader.

In her letter, dated 12 September to prime minister Joseph Muscat, commissioner Dunja Mijatović said that when Caruana Galizia was killed in October 2017 by a car bomb the journalist was facing more than 40 civil and criminal defamation suits.

After her death, some 30 were transferred to her family under a Maltese civil law which allows plaintiffs to pursue actions against the heirs of a deceased accused.

“Firstly, I understand that in accordance with Maltese law, in defamation suits the burden of proof lies with the respondents,” wrote Mijatović.

While noting the laws on bringing a case against a defendant’s estate, she voiced concern that “in the case of Daphne Caruana Galizia, this means that her heirs could be expected to reveal information on her journalistic work and sources.

“This is not only an excessive and very complex burden for the respondents but may also constitute an undue interference with the right to protection of journalistic sources,” Mijatović wrote.

Saying the cases placed “unwarranted psychological and financial pressure” on the reporter’s family she added: “Continuing these claims – many of which were lodged by public officials including yourself – is not only perceived as an intimidation of a family faced with the loss of their loved one but also raises questions regarding the Maltese authorities’ commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds of this horrendous crime to justice.”

Caruana Galizia, described by supporters as a “one-woman WikiLeaks,” had highlighted corruption in Maltese politics and Muscat was a frequent target, as was the country’s opposition.

Muscat has insisted he will only drop his personal defamation cases if the journalist’s family “accepts the findings” of an inquiry which he claimed exonerated him.

On Thursday he insisted the government “cannot interfere in, abolish or truncate civil actions”.

Mijatović went on to tell Muscat, who had said his government was committed to reforming libel laws, that such laws “put journalists and their families at risk and have a chilling effect on investigative journalism in particular.

“I urge your authorities to take measures to repeal these provisions which represent a real threat to journalistic freedom in your country,” she concluded.

Caruana Galizia’s family insisted they would “not succumb to blackmail”, adding they did not have access to the full inquiry and could not comment on the findings.

“Our position on not accepting blackmail will never change,” they said in a statement.

After Caruana Galizia’s death, her sons called on Muscat to resign, accusing him of failing to uphold fundamental freedoms on the island, an EU member since 2004, and creating a culture of political impunity.

In July, three suspects arrested weeks after the bombing were sent for trial but the identities of those ordering the killing remain unclear.

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