International response to Daphne’s death crucial, son maintains

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The assistance by foreign journalists and international NGOs was crucial in moving forward investigations into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, her son Matthew maintained today.

Caruana Galizia was speaking in an online seminar organised by the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, on the topic of holding power to account.

He described his mother’s death as a collective trauma for the entire country, which dealt a tough blow to local journalists. However, he said, he was “forever grateful” that the Daphne Project – coordinated by Paris-based organisation Forbidden Stories to continue working on the stories his mother was following – helped fill the gap.

Now devoting himself full time to running the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, founded by the family following her death, Caruana Galizia – who was part of a team which won the Pulitzer Prize over the Panama Papers – gave a candid account of the various challenges and struggles involved in the quest for justice for his mother and for the continuation of her legacy.

Faced with a hostile environment which has even seen government officials spread rumours that he was somehow involved in his mother’s assassination, he highlighted the need to keep oneself in good spirits – as well as keep the authorities on their toes.

‘Setting fires that need to be put out’

Caruana Galizia said that it was important for him to keep his eyes on the ball and focus on the most important matters: corruption in Malta and his mother’s murder. He noted that Malta’s status as a tax haven was often brought up in such discussions, but this risked muddying the waters.

But he also mentioned the importance of “setting fires that need to be put out;” effectively, pursuing actions which forced internal discussions within the institutions and organisations targeting them.

“We put a lot of effort into appealing from help from political bodies that are typically considered to be useless,” Caruana Galizia said, citing the UN Human Rights Council as an example.

Though the body was powerless to intervene against Malta, he said, governments cared about their standing in international fora, and would thus be constrained to respond.

This would frustrate them and occupy their time, perhaps limiting the effort they could devote to malicious actions. But at times, he added, such actions also helped show that within authorities, there may be lone individuals who would be on their side, even though they may lack the backing to do anything about it.

“We aim to give them that backing,” he added.

Similarly, Caruana Galizia said, rapporteurs – such as the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt, who is monitoring rule of law in Malta – could be seen as toothless, but having teeth was not their purpose. Their purpose was to use their authority to demand explanations from the state.

He noted that the Maltese government’s explanation not only exposed malfeasance and misfeasance, but also exposed the government’s hatred of his mother. An official state-level response, he pointed out, had named her as a “hate blogger,” a phrase which “shows contempt for my mother’s work.”

The importance of family and friends

Caruana Galizia also said that sticking together as a family – and staying in touch with extended family and friends – was crucial if one is to keep going.

Though staying in a bubble was often seen as a negative, he said that it proved to be a positive in his case, as it would have been impossible to cope if he constantly exposed himself to negative or contradictory views.

And coping was crucial, as Caruana Galizia admitted that he often wondered whether it was worth doing what he was doing, given the sacrifices it entailed. Moreover, the temptation to agree to certain concessions – such as when the government pushed for the family to accept a particular judge on the board of the public inquiry it sought – was tempting.

But he noted that such concessions – in return for a degree of personal comfort – “will be used as a stick to beat you with.”

Caruana Galizia also argued that the fact that one often felt like scratching the surface could also be frustrating, but added that wherever something could be done, then it should be done.

“If we can only meaningfully investigate one case, then we have a duty to do it,” he said.