Updated 4.15pm, adds MEPs statement
Robert Aquilina, head of the rule of law group Repubblika has, through his lawyer, written to the prime minister and the police commissioner requesting protection for himself and his family so that he may exercise his right to freedom of expression without fear, harassment or threats.
Aquilina recently authored the book Pilatus: A Laundromat Bank in Europe and has been vocal in events exposing corruption, abuse of power and impunity.
In a three-page letter, lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia said that an intimidating and hostile environment is being created against Aquilina, due consideration of which is not being made by state authorities assessing whether he and his family are deserving of protection.
“Harassment and dehumanisation of Dr Aquilina consistently takes place on media platforms, including social media, seeking to isolate him and to portray him as the enemy or the traitor of government,” the letter reads, while reminding of the circumstances which led to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The lawyer said a number of police officers had shared their concern about Aquilina’s safety, and his wife and children had been targeted in threatening letters.
A threatening message had been sent to him by a non-Maltese person that "they would see to Dr Aquilina themselves after a third person refused to inform him that he should back down.”
Comodini Cachia wrote that the authorities seemed only willing to protect Aquilina when there was clear evidence of a real and immediate risk of a specific attack on his life.
“This effectively means that the authorities would only be willing to protect Dr Aquilina only when the knife is already metaphorically at his throat,” she warned.
In a separate statement, Repubblika said it was a shame that Aquilina had to publicly plead for police protection.
Activism, it said, was an essential part of democratic life and independent of whether the prime minister or the police commissioner felt comfortable with it, they needed to take whatever measures were necessary to ensure that those who criticised them were protected.
The group recalled the outcome of the Caruana Galizia murder inquiry which found that former prime minister Joseph Muscat and former commissioner Lawrence Cutajar were, among others, responsible for the murder through their failure to protect her in a situation of demonisation and the impunity for criminals she had revealed, circumstances which were now being repeated.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party said the State had the duty to ensure that Aquilina and his family are protected.
In a democratic country, no one should feel unsafe because they uncover what is happening in the country, exercising their right to freedom of expression.
In another statement, European Parliament Media Working Group co-chairs David Casa and Ramona Strugariu said Aquilina’s activism must not be curtailed because of violent threats against his work.
The Maltese state, they said, is obliged to uphold a safe environment that promotes freedom of expression and political discourse.
Aquilina’s right to speak, they said, is unduly being curtailed by harassment and threats, so effective protection must be provided to him and his family.
They also said that, in line with international standards in furtherance of creating an enabling environment for activists, the government must refrain from smear campaigns and must act promptly against threats as they arise.
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