Sakharov Prize debate, Valletta, 2nd February 2018
In Malta we are allowed to offend religion, but we are not protected from investigating Pilatus Bank or Henley and Partners.
This is one of the everyday contradictions we face under Joseph Muscat, whose government favours liberalization as long as it does not interfere with the interests of oligarchs. In fact, whilst blasphemy laws were repealed in 2016, Maltese legislation does not protect journalists and media houses from SLAPP lawsuits.
Hence, the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is being used by companies associated with controversies involving the Government’s deficit in governance to stop journalists from doing their job.
Both Pilatus Bank and Henley and Partners resorted to SLAPP against the press when investigations were being carried out on matters related to Panama Papers and Malta’s cash-for-passports scheme respectively. In practice, this means that international court cases could cripple journalists due to hefty legal costs, often leaving the same journalists with no option but to withdraw their writings. Given that Pilatus and Henley could have easily resorted to Maltese courts, one should ask whether their actions are in bad faith.
It is of utmost importance that Malta’s parliament approves the private member’s bill that will be discussing the SLAPP issue. If approved, the bill would ensure that such court cases would not be enforceable in Malta. So far the opposition has declared its support, whilst the government side has failed to do so.
We should be thankful to journalists who are investigating corruption, bad governance, money laundering and similar matters which are of public interest. The same can be said with regards to activists and politicians active in the field.
But we should also be suspicious of politicians who resort to populist language to depict an ‘us and them’ situation with regard to Malta and the European Union institutions that are investigating Maltese rule of law. We Maltese are Europe, we voted to join the EU, and European institutions represent us as much as they represent other European citizens. Just imagine how much more abuse of power, corruption and impunity would exist in Malta had we opted to remain out of Europe.
May I remind those present that more than one hundred days have passed since the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. This murder represented the worst possible attack against freedom of speech. Daphne’s loss is a human tragedy. But it also means that we are deprived of her investigations of corruption, organized crime and bad governance.
We know that three people were arrested in relation to the bomb that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia. But there seems to have been little progress since then. To date, there is no sign that the authorities have identified who commissioned, planned or orchestrated this murder.
It is therefore not surprising that international institutions, international civil society, international media and international think tanks are concerned with Malta’s current situation in matters such as free speech, governance, protection of journalists, rule of law and corruption.
Unfortunately the Government propaganda machine is trying to depict another picture. It tries to make us forget about panama papers and about the endless list of scandals related to the parceling out of the common good.
Government tries to make us forget about the shortcomings of the Police Commissioner, who refuses to take action on Panama Papers. Government ignores the advice of Chief Justice and Ombudsman regarding the same Police Commissioner and the Attorney General.
Malta is governed by a party that speaks about freedom but tries to shut up those who seek truth and justice on corruption and organized crime. Government boasts about whistleblowers but refuses to protect Jonathan Ferris and Maria Efimova.
We have a Prime Minister who tells us that he will only react to comments by other Prime Ministers. We have a Prime Minister who confuses electoral majorities with divine rights, above rule of law. We have a Prime Minister who exploits worthy gains in LGBTIQ policy to excuse himself from abuses elsewhere. This is not liberalism. This represents politics of the least common denominator.
Indeed, political power in Malta is now based on patronage, corruption and social malaise. As long as oligarchs are not hurt, anything goes.
Malta’s freedom of expression is being compromised by a soulless state. But no government is eternal, and we will keep reading, writing and speaking to confirm this fact.