WPFD. Corinne Vella: then they killed my sister Daphne

Malta’s failure that led to the journalist’s killing. Who was Daphne. The proposal to strenghten monitoring mechanism carried out by organisations as Ossigeno per l’Informazione

This is the speech that Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sister pronounced on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day celebrations that were held in Rome on 8 May 2018. The event was co-organised with AGCOM, with the support of Ordine dei Giornalisti del Lazio and with the patronage of UNESCO.

Abuses by state and non-state actors have a chilling effect on free expression.

Whether a journalist is silenced through fear or death, we are all losers.

We all lose our right to know, to hear, and to understand.


Press freedom is under threat everywhere. Only one in seven of us lives in a country where there is press freedom.

Europe is considered the region where press freedom is safest. But its hard-won press freedoms are much more fragile than we’ve come to believe.

Four of the biggest drops in this year’s RSF Press Freedom Index are european countries.

The biggest drop is Malta’s – down 18 places, it now ranks 65th

A major factor in Malta’s new ranking is Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death last October.



Daphne was Malta’s most influential and widely-read journalist.

As she drove away from her home on 16 October 2017, she was assassinated by a powerful remote-controlled bomb which was placed under her car seat.

Her killing raised concerns globally about press freedom, corruption and the rule of law in Malta.

It also raised concerns that Europe is no longer safe for journalists.

In an address in Brussels some months after Daphne’s death, her sons warned that what happened to their mother could happen again.

Shortly afterwards, Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirovna were killed at home.

Now, we can no longer speak of whether a journalist’s murder could happen again, but of when.

More recently a plan for an attempt on Paolo Borrometi’s life was foiled. This is welcome news, but it is terrible that there was an attempt at all.

We should not think this concerns Paolo Borrometti alone. It is a concern for us all.

Journalists do not exist and work in a vacuum. They live and work in the communities we all share.

That means all of us have a stake in journalists being properly protected. It is through their work that we are informed and able to hold power to account.

But to focus solely on a journalist who is targeted is to miss the bigger picture. We should look at how to redress systemic failure and how to close the gaps in protection mechanisms.

In Malta’s case, it means we should be looking at the failure of state institutions and how to end impunity.



Ultimately, responsibility for protecting journalists rests with the state, which has a positive obligation to protect rights, not least the right to life and the right to know.

Malta’s police commissioner has said that Daphne refused police protection. Aside from this being factually incorrect, it is an inadequate defence of state failure.

The best form of protection is for state authorities to pre-empt crime and to go after the criminals who are a threat to journalists.

There is no inquiry into whether Daphne’s assassination could have been prevented, or into whether the state bears responsibility for its failure to protect her.

And there is no inquiry into the state’s role in fostering a hostile environment for critical and independent journalism.

This too, is a form of state failure.

What we do know is that systematically bringing criminals to justice makes communities safer for journalists.

Persistent impunity for the crimes a journalist exposes undermines that journalist’s work. It also creates an environment where attacking a journalist is normalised.

In my sister’s case, the cumulative effect was fatal.


Daphne always knew she was not totally free to write. She wanted to live in a country where freedom of the press and freedom of expression are unassailable rights.

Over a three-decade career, she was increasingly vilified, discredited, and isolated. Her home was set on fire twice, once with a clear intention to kill.

No one was brought to justice for the crimes against her or for those she reported on in recent years.

Corruption and impunity are conditions which enabled her assassination.

The problems escalated sharply in the last few years. Before her death, Daphne was subjected to escalating intimidation and threats by government officials and their associates.

She exposed corruption involving the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and a senior minister, Konrad Mizzi. Yet both men are still in position and still protected by the Prime Minister.

She exposed collusion between the Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri, the justice minister Owen Bonnici, and Christian Kaelin of Henley and Partners, to use the UK law firm Mishcon de Reya. They planned to silence her by burdening her with punitive law suits.

When Daphne died, she was facing 47 court cases, 5 of them in the criminal court. Most were brought by officials of the government and the ruling party, and by their associates. The minister for the economy had her bank accounts frozen.

Well after Daphne’s death, we found out there was a 48th case. Ali Sadr, the Iranian owner of Pilatus Bank, sued in her in Arizona for 40 million dollars. He never notified her. She never knew of the case. Sadr withdrew it hours after she was killed.

One politician built his leadership campaign on denigrating her for exposing his links to organised crime.

She was unprotected by Malta’s institutions, including the police force, the attorney-general and the courts, who did nothing about the crimes she exposed.

With only weak support from the country’s largest media houses, her killing became conceivable.



Avoid hostile rhetoric about journalists

Extremists and ordinary citizens take cues from their leaders. Hostile rhetoric aimed at critical journalists makes it appear legitimate to attack them.

Implement the Council of Europe’s recommendation on the protection and safety of journalists

This was signed in 2016 but it has yet to be implemented.

Strengthen monitoring mechanisms

Organisations like Ossigeno per l’informazione should be supported in practical ways.

Legislate to protect the identities of journalists making Freedom of Information requests.

Establish a transnational advisory body to oversee investigations into the killings of journalists. This will raise the risk for criminals and draw attention to elected and unelected officials who are unwilling to defend a free press.

And last but not least,

End impunity

As Italian court rooms remind us, “la legge e’ uguale per tutti”. There should be no exceptions.


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