Updated 2pm with OSCE statement
The public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia must be fully independent to bring long-overdue justice for her family, colleagues and Maltese society, the OSCE said on Saturday.
In a statement reacting to the setting up of a public inquiry into the journalist's murder in October 2017, the organisation's freedom of the media representative Harlem Désir said:
"I have repeatedly called for an independent and effective investigation, in order for all the facts to be brought to light and for all those responsible, including all perpetrators and masterminds, to face justice.”
The government said on Friday night the Prime Minister has requested that an inquiry will be held to establish whether the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been prevented. The inquiry is to be concluded within nine months.
In a report on the state of the rule of law in Malta published in June, the Council of Europe called on the government to set up a public inquiry aimed at establishing whether the journalist’s death could have been prevented.
The council’s imposed three-month deadline for the inquiry to begin would have expired on Thursday.
There can be no justice unless the process is fully independent- Harlem Désir
Mr Désir said there could be no justice unless this process was fully independent, comprehensive and impartial.
“I will continue to closely monitor developments and the judicial process, in the hope that full justice can be served for this horrific killing almost two years ago.”
He added that there could be no impunity for crimes committed against journalists.
The OSCE representative on freedom of the media observes media developments in the 57 OSCE participating states.
He provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments.
Caruana Galizia family deserve better - Repubblika
His statements followed others on Saturday, including by civil society NGO Repubblika which said that relatives of murder victims, let alone families of an assassinated journalist, deserved far better treatment by the state than what was being meted out to the Caruana Galizia family.
The NGO said it was deeply disturbed to learn that the government had not consulted the Caruana Galizia family in any way about the composition of the inquiry.
"The consequences of this are as grave as they ought to have been predicatable," it said.
Singling out one member of the inquiry board, Repubblika said that although no one doubted Prof. Ian Refalo’s legal competence, that was not the only requirement for suitability for this inquiry. Another requirement was "impartiality", which Prof. Refalo could not have.
He represented the FIAU, the reputation of which had been utterly destroyed by Ms Caruana Galizia. She had exposed that agency’s ineptitude or wilful reluctance in fighting against pervasive money laundering and forced the agency to buckle under the scrutiny of the European Banking Authority and other international agencies and institutions.
The consequences of this are as grave as they ought to have been predicatable- Repubblika
Prof. Refalo also represented the FIAU in the case raised by Jonathan Ferris, himself a whistleblower unrecognised as such by the government and for likely identical reasons unfairly dismissed by Prof. Refalo’s client agency.
He counted among his clients Adrian Hillman, whose allegedly corrupt relationship with the prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri was exposed by Ms Caruana Galizia’s journalism.
Similarly, Prof. Refalo’s portfolio of clients included Technoline, the firm that made a "killing" from the suspect transactions around the hospitals' privatisation and that is believed to have direct connections with the interests of Keith Schembri, the prime minister's chief of staff.
Repubblika said that whatever good intentions Dr Anthony Abela Medici may have, his expertise appeared to be only marginally relevant to the inquiry. He was Commissioner for the Voluntary Sector, a position given by the government without security of tenure.
While he was at the Prime Minister's mercy, he could not be considered in any way independent, let alone impartial
"While he was at the Prime Minister's mercy, he could not be considered in any way independent, let alone impartial."
Retired judge Michael Mallia was also an odd choice given the government’s "nauseating repetition" for the past two years that there must be no cross-contamination between the present public inquiry and the criminal investigations the government insisted were still ongoing in this case.
Judge Mallia had been tasked with assessing and investigating the content of Ms Caruana Galizia’s work computer and was, therefore, part of the ongoing criminal investigations.
His involvement in both inquiries was conflicted and, by the rules of engagement set out by the government itself, a paralysis for the proper conduct of either inquiry.
"We are unhappy the government took almost two years to call this public inquiry and has done so only after international outrage and the certain prospect of a third condemnation in the courts for the breach of the Caruana Galizia family’s fundamental human rights.
"The lack of consultation shows moreover that no attempt is being made to ensure that the inquiry is genuinely independent and that it allows for justice to be served and to be seen to be served," Repubblika said.
The composition of the team also faced objections by Caruana Galizia's family who called for a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Long overdue step towards justice - RSF
In another statement, Reporters Without Borders said the announcement that a public inquiry would finally be established was a long-overdue step towards justice.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has long advocated this measure, and underscored the need to ensure the full independence and impartiality of the inquiry, including through close scrutiny of the composition and actions of the board of inquiry.
It said it supported the family’s request for a meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to discuss their concerns.
A public inquiry that lacks independence and impartiality will fool no one- RSF
“The establishment of a public inquiry is long overdue, and is an essential step towards justice for the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. This is the result of the sustained advocacy efforts of her family and civil society groups for nearly two years.
"But a public inquiry that lacks independence and impartiality will fool no one - and the goal remains full justice for this heinous assassination. We will remain vigilant and scrutinise the composition and actions of the board of inquiry, and act to hold the Maltese government to account for its international obligations,” RSF UK Bureau director Rebecca Vincent said.
RSF said it had been calling for an inquiry for a long time, including through extensive advocacy at PACE. It also led an international freedom of expression mission to Malta in October 2018, raising the issue directly with senior government officials including the Prime Minister.
On 19 September, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic published an exchange of letters with Prime Minister Muscat calling for the dozens of posthumous defamation lawsuits that continue against Daphne Caruana Galizia to be withdrawn, and for the repeal of the provisions that allow for defamation cases to be passed to heirs. RSF has frequently highlighted the vexatious nature of these lawsuits as one of many forms of ongoing pressure against the family and others working towards justice for the assassination.
RSF said that together with members of Caruana Galizia’s family and legal team, it will be addressing the lawsuits against the family, the matter of the public inquiry, and the broader worrying press freedom climate in Malta at a side event at PACE on September 30, organised with the support of the Justice for Journalists Foundation.
Malta is ranked 77th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 32 places over the past two years.