A group of international press freedom organisations have again highlighted “serious concerns” about the state of freedom of expression in Malta.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the International Press Institute, and ARTICLE 19 said they had earlier submitted a report to the United Nations outlining their “serious concerns” on the state of freedom of expression and press freedom in the country.
The United Nations reviewed Malta’s human rights record on Wednesday through its Universal Periodic Review mechanism. The review receives submissions from national governments as well as civil society organisations.
“Owing to ongoing and escalating concerns with freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in Malta”, the group then published an updated report last month.
Both reports, the group said, had found that freedom of expression in the country had deteriorated significantly in the lead-up to and in the aftermath of the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The group urged UN member states to recommend that Malta establish an immediate public inquiry into the late Ms Caruana Galizia’s killing to probe whether her death could have been prevented, and to learn lessons for the future.
The group also said it was deeply concerned that in its August 2018 national report, the Maltese government had failed to include any information on the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia in the section on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.
“This disturbing omission forms part of a pattern of behaviour by the Maltese authorities at international and national fora of intentionally ignoring and downplaying the importance of this case and its implications for press freedom in Malta,” the group said.
The organisations, meanwhile welcomed the statements by UN member states who raised major concerns about the deterioration of freedom of expression.
The group echoed Switzerland’s comment that “there are serious doubts as to the credibility of the investigation by the Maltese authorities into her killing.”
Switzerland also drew attention to the continuing issue of defamation suits, noting that at the time of her death, Ms Caruana Galizia was facing 47 civil and criminal libel suits from senior members of government and business people.
The coalition welcomed Belgium’s recommendation that Malta prohibit the recognition of foreign defamation judgments to protect Maltese journalists from threats emanating or arising from Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits and libel tourism.
The coalition urged the Government of Malta to accept and implement the recommendations made in relation to strengthening freedom of expression and protecting journalists in Malta.
"We also reiterate our call that the Maltese authorities establish without delay a public inquiry into whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination could have been prevented, and to learn lessons for the future," they said.