Journalists in Malta remain at risk, RSF tells inquiry board

Rose Vella, mother of late Daphne Caruana Galizia, and father of Daphne, Michael Vella, hold pictures of the journalist during a demonstration demanding justice over the murder of Daphne, outside the Court of Justice, in Valletta Malta, December 1, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Pauline Ades-Mevel who is the Head of the EU desk for Reporters Without Borders testified on Friday morning during the public inquiry.

The last sitting which was scheduled for Wednesday during which Bartolo was to testify was postponed to a later day.

The inquiry is tasked, among others, to determine whether the State did all it can to prevent the murder from happening.

The board of inquiry is led by Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, accompanied by former Chief Justice Joseph Said Pullicino and judge Abigail Lofaro.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia and Eve Borg Costanzi are assisting the family.

11:10 Thank you for following this live blog.
Monique Agius
11:09 Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo is set to testify on Wednesday at 9.30am while MEP David Casa will testify on Friday.
Monique Agius
11:06 Ades-Mevel says that Matteo Salvini had used his private email when he was trying to revoke Roberto Saviano's protection, in a reply to a question about the use of the prime minister's private email to attack journalists.
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11:05 Azzopardi quotes a tweet by Silvio Schembri. The tweet was posted on 30 May 2017 in which Schembri shared a video and wrote that after the election they would get rid of Daphne Caruana Galizia and her son Matthew. He asks whether it is common.

'Unheard of,' she replies.
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11:02 Azzopardi: Have you ever encountered a situation where an official for the OPM who is also a MP writes publicly to discredit journalists?

Ades-Mevel: It does happen because unfortunately the press situation has deteriorated. Apart from Malta, there's Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland and Italy during the time of Matteo Salvini.

"Matteo Salvini who happens to be the best friend of Joseph Muscat," Azzopardi remarks.
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11:00 Azzopardi takes over the questioning.

Ades-Mevel has been a journalist for 27 years.

Azzopardi: How often have you encountered states trying to discredit journalists and civil society.

Ades-Mevel: Malta is one of them. Bulgaria – not exactly the same comments but same level of corruption. Serbia, Montenegro, Albania.
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10:56 The political interference into the murder investigation is clear, she said.

'I managed to meet the magistrate investigating the murder on my own, six months after the murder but he was promoted directly after. I had to inform the police before the meeting. I was later told that I would not be allowed to meet his successor Neville Camilleri,' she says.

She was a witness in the inquiry and told the magistrate that the organisation was worried and that it thought that the situation was not improving.
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10:53 Comodini Cachia asks her about the report, 'Justice Delayed'.

A grant was awarded to look into what was happening here. Rebecca Vincent and Caroline Muscat from The Shift studied the situation in Malta, she says.
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10:51 Ades-Mevel clarifies that they met the prime minister as RSF not as journalist and it took her two or three of trying to get a meeting with him. She adds that until the very last minute we did not know if we would be meeting the prime minister. She adds that this is something that they are used to.
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10:50 Ades-Mevel says that the feeling of impunity has an impact on other journalists.
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10:47 Comodini Cachia: Did you conclude that you were being diplomatically dismissed?

Ades-Mevel: Exactly.
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10:46 'What was the reaction of the authorities?' Comodini Cachia asks.

'From what I've heard the prime minister has always been extremely concerned and polite and interested in what we were asking but he also seemed to be saying that the authorities were doing what they had to do,' she replies.
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10:43 Ades-Mevel says that she met with the President and the Attorney General. while her colleague Rebecca Vincent met with the prime minister and the economy minister.

She explains that their proposals were twofold – an independent investigation into the murder with international observers and to obtain full justice in a transparent way and have the authorities bring the perpetrators and the mastermind to court.
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10:42 'I did not mention bloggers because the notion is very large. We do not defend those who publish on Facebook and so on. We work with journalists whose context is journalistic,' she says.
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10:41 'How many independent journalists do you have on this isalnd even though it is small? Not much,' she says, 'In Slovakia? A lot.'
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10:38 Ades-Mevel tells the board that some journalists tell me that they were not able to write, especially after the murder. She recalls some journalists being prevented from working on political affairs just before prime minister Joseph Muscat left.
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10:34 Asking about the ranking, Comodini Cachia asks about the infrastructure. What are pitfalls of infrastructures for journalists in Malta, she asks.

The head of RSF EU desk says that the people here do not say that they work in the name of the media, they say the party they work for, the polarisation is so visible, she remarks.

'We study public TV around the world and we look at what it provides to the audience. After the murder we took part in the demonstration in October 2017. That was my first time in Malta. The streets were packed. State TV made no mention of the demonstration, it just mentioned that the people had gathered to commemorate Caruana Galizia with a single photograph of the crowd,' she says.
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10:33 Dr Comodini Cachia asks about SLAPP proceedings. She asks if she is aware of the exchange of emails between the person proposing the SLAPP suit, then-Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and then-prime minister Joseph Muscat.

She says that she does have the kind of detail. She says that probably the legal experts at RSF would know.
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10:29 Judge Lofaro asks if having police protection would have reduced the risk.

Ades-Mevel says that in some countries it works mentioning Serbia as an example.

'Protection helps as long as it set up with the journalist,' she says.
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10:28 Ades-Mevel she says that the assassination could have been prevented, 'the way she was attacked, treated and harassed was a sign that things could get worse and worse'.
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10:26 'Since the trial is not over and there is no judgement in this case… who is behind the perpetrators? It could also be a foreign country,' Ades-Mevel says.
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10:25 Ades-Mevel tells the board that the journalists here do not want to be seen with us.

'One of them in particular is more watched than the others,' she says.
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10:20 Dr Comodini: You say that journalists are still at risk and they send you emails. Without disclosing identities could you give us examples and what they would report.

Ades-Mevel: It is a small island and it is easy to identify. Many believe that there phones are monitored, not one of them will communicate with me unless through encrypted networks. This feeling is now reinforced. In 2016, I was receiving emails on my normal work account. I would say that this is one sign that has changed. Also the SLAPP procedures against Daphne, Matthwe, Caroline Muscat and other journalists themselves. This is shocking.
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10:17 "Where in the EU do you see a witness in a situation like it was three days ago, it is obscene," Ades-Mevel says remarking on Melvin Theuma's suicide attempt.

'We have seen no change. So far, I haven't had any journalist telling me that the situation has improved,' she says.
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10:16 "We want the case of Daphne to be cleared because we don't want impunity. If there is no justice it will create a chilling effect for other journalists who are willing to work here," Ades- Mevel says.
Monique Agius
10:12 The head of RSF EU desk says that the attacks on journalists continued even after the assassination. She mentions an address Muscat gave during a public rally on 1 May.
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10:11 Ades-Mevel draws a comparison to Slovakia.

'Joseph Muscat had continued to target journalists,' she says.

'In Slovakia, the prime minister called journalists prostitutes for reporting on EU funds not being distributed correctly. He was forced from office and Mr Pellegrini took over,' she adds.
Monique Agius
10:09 People answering questionnaires are Maltese media, international media. Reports are from Maltese media and those who come here from US, UK, France, Germany.

Those reporting to RSF about the situation in Malta are those who live here and work for Maltese media and those who travel from abroad to Malta to report about the situation.

To date those reporting on Malta do not want to be named in questionnaires.
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10:06 'My view is that journalists are still at risk and the reason why I am here is that we don't want another journalist to be killed here. I am sure that this could not happen again.

We've done huge work in Slovakia following the murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiance. Yesterday in Slovakia, the prosecutor requested 25 years for the mastermind,' Ades-Mevel tells the board.
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10:05 RSF sends questionnaires from September to January, so no new questionnaires have been sent since the new prime minister was appointed, she tells the board.
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10:03 Judge Said Pullicino asks what criteria influence that ranking. She explains that they evaluate states on seven indicators. They pool the responses of experts on the ground. The quantitative data is combined on acts of violence, media independence, media environment, self censorship, infrastructure, legislative framework, among others.
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10:00 Ades-Mevel explains that Malta's ranking kept falling even after the assassination because local journalists continue to report high tension, polarisation of the media, and SLAPP among others.

'There was some hope in November. People are still scared. Journalists are still at risk. Now the situation seems that it has not improved enough,' Ades-Mevel says.
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09:59 'To give you the picture, Poland and Hungary were under the spotlight where press freedom issues were top priority. Poland was considered as an exemplary country where the press freedom was deteriorating. i travelled there a lot, but I said that there are other countries like Malta and Cyprus where the EU was not looking closely at what was happening on the ground,' Ades-Mevel says.
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09:58 She had written to Daphne Caruana Galizia but had not received a reply, and was told that it was easier to reach Matthew instead.
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09:57 Ades-Mevel says that she was alerted through local journalists and journalists who work with foreign media.

'I told him that I was alerted and people were telling me, that they were scared,' Ades-Mevel says.
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09:54 In her vast experience of reporting, she said she knows when the situation for journalists is not normal.

Ades-Mevel managed to reach Matthew Caruana Galizia who was working with ICIJ at the time.

The Head of RSF's EU desk recalls the meeting with Matthew Caruana Galizia who had explained the situation with his mother and the pressure, in July 2017.

'I started to ask him how it had become like this. I was shocked because he had been going through this time for a long time. Family dogs being killed, arson attempts at the house,' Ades-Mevel recalls.

'It was not normal to have a journalist singled out,' she says.
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09:53 'It is important that I tell you about these alerts. We don't take them for granted but we investigate,' Ades-Mevel tells the board.
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09:51 In February 2017m when Malta was about to lose one rank in the Press Freedom Index, she had received information that Caruana Galizia was being harassed and had her assets frozen.

RSF sent an alert to the Council of Europe platform about the case.

The first time she was contacted about Caruana Galizia in February 2017. It was not Caruana Galizia herself who had contacted Ades-Mevel but some other journalist.
Monique Agius
09:50 RSF publishes an index which ranks 180 countries and follows countries all throughout the year. The NGO speaks to journalists, editors, media owners, etc.

When she joined RSF, Malta was very placed. She explains that reporters in Malta were reporting being tense and scared of backlash.
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09:49 She is currently the spokesperson for RSF and editor-in-chief. She was responsible for monitoring the situation of press freedom in Europe. At present, she is monitoring 40 countries.
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09:48 Vella steps off the stand. Pauline Ades-Mevel is called in.

"It's an important moment. I've been working on the case for three years, really three years and a half because I was aware of the difficult situation of journalists in Malta."
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09:45 Vella tells the board that Caruana Galizia had sued Kurt Farrugia for libel. Farrugia at the time was director of communications for Maltastar. Articles about the 2008 university debate were written.

On 14 November 2011, the judge had fined Kurt Farrugia €1,400.

Vella notes that Farrugia repeated the claims under oath despite having been found not true.
Monique Agius
09:41 Comodini Cachia tells the board that she wants to present an interview, Caruana Galizia had given shortly before she was killed where she described the threats she faced. Corinne Vella takes the witness stand and presents a copy to the board, together with an article from the Guardian.
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09:39 The judges have entered the courtroom.

Dr Comodini Cachia presents a copy of the NAO report on Vitals Global Healthcare to the board.
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09:30 Good morning and welcome to this live blog.
Monique Agius