Slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s parents, sisters and two nieces testified in the public inquiry into the assassination on Tuesday, giving highly emotional testimonies on what it meant to be a close family member.
“Daph stop writing. It’s not worth it,” her sister Mandy Mallia said she once told her.
“Someone has to do it,” Ms Caruana Galizia replied, her mood more pensive than usual.
Ms Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb explosion in Bidnija on October 16, 2017.
Even after her death, the family continued to struggle for truth and justice, hardly being given “time to grieve”, the inquiry heard.
Ms Mallia recalled how Daphne had long been vilified and dehumanised by many and how the abuse had escalated as more people gained access to the internet.
She had known for long that her sister was “treading dangerous grounds,” recalling how shortly after the setting up of her Running Commentary, an anonymous site, tasteyourownmedicine.com as well as Glen Bedingfield’s blog, had set out to vilify and dehumanise Ms Caruana Galizia.
Mr Bedingfield, a public official, use to upload posts during office hours, Ms Mallia pointed out.
Whenever she would hear some explosion at night, Ms Mallia would log in onto her sister’s blog, to make sure that she was alright.
“That was my way of checking on her,” she explained, going on to recall the terrible phone call giving her the news of the assassination.
“I was shocked but not surprised,” she said.
A friend working at Mater Dei Hospital had later told her how medical staff at the operating theatre had celebrated upon learning of the assassination.
“It was ironic how people employed by the State to save life actually celebrated my sister’s horrific murder.”
Another incident, also impressed in her memory was when one day, while grieving alone at the site of the explosion, she had been rallied with calls of, “Boom, boom, boom… Joseph King,” by persons driving by.
Another incident, also recalled by other members of the family, was when a total stranger had walked up to relatives of the journalist who were placing flowers and candles at the Great Siege memorial and had wrestled a photo of Daphne out of her father’s hands.
The man had then chucked the picture into a bin nearby and walked off triumphantly bearing a floral bouquet meant for the slain journalist’s makeshift memorial.
“I have been shouted at and ridiculed by people saying that no amount of candles can bring her back,” said Helene Asciak, another of Daphne’s sisters. “I can never bring my sister back, I know that. But we can fight for truth and justice. Justice must be served.”
Ms Asciak, who was very emotional throughout her testimony, said that although many people remembered her sister through her last words, “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate,” she would always remember the words said to her by Ms Caruana Galizia when she last dropped her off home, a couple of days before the murder, in the same car she would be eventually assassinated in.
Amy Mallia, Daphne’s niece, described one particularly harsh episode when a fellow student had remarked, in February 2018, “that it would be better if a bomb was placed under her seat too.”
She also recalled how Neville Gafà had once spotted her walking with her aunt in Valletta and how afterwards their photos had popped up on his Facebook page.
Amy’s sister, Megan, also recalled a brief encounter with a man, in t-shirt and jeans, “walking freely” at Malta International Airport. “I immediately recognised his cold eyes,” said Ms Mallia, explaining that the man was Keith Schembri.
“My mother and I burst into tears.”
Earlier on in Tuesday’s sitting, Ms Caruana Galizia’s elderly parents also took the witness stand.
Rose Vella recalled various instances of harassment suffered by her daughter and also made reference to a curious incident concerning a shop in Naxxar that was allegedly “raided” and turned upside down in an inspection, a day after Ms Caruana Galizia had visited.
The mother also recalled a shocking experience when a medical official in hospital, where she was recovering after a stroke, had told her, “it’s probably because of Daphne”.
While visiting her parents a couple of days before her assassination, Ms Caruana Galizia had seemed particularly pensive and had told her mother that she would return with the birthday gift she had forgotten at home.
But she never came back, Ms Vella said, her voice faltering. “That was 40 hours before her assassination.”
“My daughter had a strong sense of duty,” said Michael Vella, Daphne’s father, saying that his daughter had uncovered corruption and kept government under scrutiny.
However, the threats against her escalated, especially after Labour’s return to power and after John Rizzo was no longer Police Commissioner.
This was a constant source of worry for her parents.
Mr Vella also said that Ms Caruana Galizia had also been blamed for the PN’s defeat at the polls and recalled the numerous libel suits filed by new PN leader Adrian Delia.
“All this had left Daphne alone and isolated,” he said.
“Had the authorities taken action, my daughter would still be alive today”, the man wept, as he stepped off the witness stand, taking his wife’s hand as the couple walked slowly away.
At one point, the hearing continued behind closed doors as a “member of the media” claiming to have information that could lend direction to the inquiry, testified.
At the very start of the hearing, the board upheld a request by the Caruana Galizia lawyers to preserve the tap3 files presented in Chris Cardona’s libel suits. Those libels had been dropped and the information regarding the minister’s whereabouts never came to light.
The hearing was adjourned to December 27 when other family members are to testify.
Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madame Justice Abigail Lofaro are presiding over the inquiry.
Correction December 10: A previous version incorrectly stated that Daphne Caruana Galizia's last words to her sister Helene were the "same" as her last written ones.