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Malta: PEN member targeted in spoof attack aimed at undermining press freedom

Tuesday 31 August 2021 - 3:10pm

Manuel Delia

The Maltese authorities must urgently strengthen the protection of journalists and activists, PEN International and PEN Malta said today, in the wake of a coordinated spoof attack that is notably targeting blogger, activist and PEN Malta General Secretary Manuel Delia.

On 26 August, Manuel Delia stated on his personal blog that several fake emails have been fraudulently sent in his name. A spoof website was also set up, smearing lies about Delia, a blogger and activist at the forefront of the fight against corruption in Malta. The attack started shortly after the indictment of businessman Yorgen Fenech for complicity in the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017. Delia and one of the lawyers for the Caruana Galizia family, Jason Azzopardi, had broken a story raising doubts over a judge’s impartiality in deciding a bail request by Fenech, which was later denied. Other newsrooms also reported on this story. Following on from this, fake emails were sent out to media houses in Malta seemingly from Delia and Azzopardi, in defence of Fenech. Maltese news websites including Newsbook, TVM, Net News, Lovinmalta, and StradaRjali, and civil society group Repubblika have subsequently been targeted. The fraudulent websites all appear to sow doubt in the prosecution of Fenech.

‘PEN International strongly condemns the sustained attack against Manuel Delia and other journalists and activists who have been reporting on the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. These fake emails and websites are clearly intended to intimidate and harass those who are fighting for full justice for Caruana Galizia and continuing to investigate the corruption she exposed. We urge the Maltese authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure that journalists and activists are able to work without fear of intimidation or threat of violence’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

On 29 August, Robert Aquilina, President of Repubblika, said he had to seek police protection after he was warned to ‘be careful’ by a politician due to his criticism of the authorities. The following day, Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela eventually condemned the growing disinformation campaign and revealed that he had himself been a victim. Several fake websites have now been taken down following the threat of legal action.

This coordinated spoof attack comes one month after a landmark public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia found that the Maltese authorities bore responsibility for her murder and called on them to strengthen the protection of journalists and freedom of expression in the country. This disinformation campaign – which tellingly started on what would have been Caruana Galizia’s 57th birthday – has a chilling effect on media freedom and must end now. We urge the authorities to take a strong stance against these malicious attacks, and to do their upmost to find a solution to this threat against Maltese democracy’ said Immanuel Mifsud, President of PEN Malta.

For more information about PEN International’s work on Malta please click here.

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 email: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org