Updated at 10pm with minister's statement
Four precautionary warrants on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assets for a total of €47,460 were filed today by Labour deputy leader Chris Cardona and his EU presidency policy officer Joseph Gerada.
The two men also each filed two civil suits against Ms Caruana Galizia claiming libel damages for articles published on her website.
The articles reported that both men had been in a brothel in Velbert, Germany, last week while on official business representing the government as guests of the German government, where they were seen at close range by another Maltese person.
Ms Caruana Galizia said in a statement this afternoon that the implications of the precautionary warrants for her fellow journalists and colleagues in the press were tremendously bad.
“When the precautionary warrant is filed by a politician against a journalist who holds him to scrutiny, the implications for democracy and for the freedom of the press are terrible,” she said, adding that the system as it stood was ripe for abuse by politicians who tried to silence journalists who expose them.
"The negative effect it will have on the freedom of the press is immense, because now it is not only libel suits which journalists have got to be wary of, but also precautionary warrants which freeze their bank accounts until the case is concluded," she wrote.
The controversy is reminiscent of another case in July 2015, when the court issued a warrant of seizure over the assets of then Times of Malta editor-in-chief Steve Mallia and head of news Ariadne Massa at the request of former and current officials from the MUMN nurses union.
A threat to democracy - PN
In a statement, the Nationalist Party said the freezing of Ms Caruana Galizia's assets was an extreme attack on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, as well as on democracy.
The freezing of the assets before the cases had even started to be heard was without precedent and showed that the PL deputy leader already knew he could not win the argument.
For if Dr Cardona and Mr Gerada had any hope of winning their suits, they would not have carried out such an extreme attack but would have waited for the result and then insist on payment.
The PN said the Prime Minister had today put his name in history as the prime minister who was willing to make use of anything to close the mouths of those who dared criticise him. This was a threat to democracy.
Institute of Maltese Journalists calls on minister to reconsider action
In another statement, the Institute of Maltese journalists said that the minister should note the implications of the precautionary warrants on journalists' work.
It appealed to him to reconsider his action and give journalists a message that they were really free in their work.
If this was not done, the institute said, the libel cases should be heard with immediate effect. To freeze a journalist's assets was an exaggeration and went against freedom of expression and the press in a free democracy.
This worsened the conditions journalists had to work in.
Lies aimed at spreading hatred and division are not journalism - minister
In a statement this evening, Dr Cardona said he believed in freedom of expression and wanted to assure journalists that they were free in their work. He encouraged them to continue seriously scrutinising what was happening.
However, lies aimed at spreading hatred and division were not journalism and no one should use the profession to say what they wanting lying about people in public life and out of it, he said.
He added that it was for this reason that the precautionary warrants were filed together with the libel suits. Those who were defending this blogger were not serving serious journalism.
Stories which were blatant lies, slanderous and without basis were being of disservice to the profession and to freedom of expression.
The minister said that although he would be filing other libel suits against other journalists, he would not be filing precautionary warrants against them.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us