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Malta | Statement on the Universal Periodic Review

Wednesday 14 November 2018 - 5:25pm

PEN International


Geneva, 14 November 2018

The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Malta took place in Geneva today.

In March 2018, PEN International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), the International Press Institute (IPI), and ARTICLE 19 submitted a report outlining our serious concerns relating to freedom of expression and press freedom in the country since its last UPR review.

Owing to ongoing and escalating concerns with freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in Malta, the coalition published an updated report in October. Both reports found that freedom of expression in the country has deteriorated significantly in the lead-up to and in the aftermath of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta's best-known investigative journalist, on 16 October 2017. The coalition urged UN member states to recommend that Malta establish an immediate public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing to probe whether her death could have been prevented, and to learn lessons for the future.

The coalition, joined by the national human rights organisation, Aditus Foundation, is deeply concerned that in its August 2018 national report submitted as part of the UPR on its own human rights record, the Maltese government failed to include any information on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in the section on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. This disturbing omission forms part of a pattern of behaviour by the Maltese authorities at international and national fora of intentionally ignoring and downplaying the importance of this case and its implications for press freedom in Malta.

The coalition welcomes the statements by many UN member states during the UPR who raised major concerns about the deterioration of freedom of expression in Malta the context of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and highlighted the inadequacies of the investigation into her killing by the Maltese authorities. These included the United States of America, Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, The Holy See, Iceland, Mexico, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.  The coalition echoes Switzerland’s comment that “there are serious doubts as to the credibility of the investigation by the Maltese authorities into her killing.” Prominent subjects of Caruana Galizia’s reporting, who may bear responsibility for her death, have not been placed under formal investigation or questioned. The lack of progress in the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder is a truly disturbing indicator of impunity.

Switzerland also drew attention to the continuing issue of defamation suits, noting that at the time of her death, Caruana Galizia was facing 47 civil and criminal libel suits from senior members of government and business people affiliated with the authorities. In 30 of those cases, the plaintiffs have chosen to continue the suits against Caruana Galizia’s estate, effectively forcing her family to defend them.

The coalition welcomes Belgium’s recommendation that Malta prohibit the recognition of foreign defamation judgments to protect Maltese journalists from threats emanating or arising from Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits and libel tourism.

We also welcome Germany’s recommendation that in order to ensure media pluralism in Malta, the rules for the appointment of members of Malta's Public Broadcasting Authority, which supervises Malta's Public Broadcasting Service, should be revised in a manner which enhances independence.

The coalition urges the Government of Malta to accept and implement the UPR recommendations made in relation to strengthening freedom of expression and protecting journalists in Malta. We also reiterate our call that the Maltese authorities establish without delay a public inquiry into whether Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination could have been prevented, and to learn lessons for the future. The public inquiry should have comprehensive and transparent terms of reference; ensure meaningful involvement of the deceased’s family; ensure the protection of sources; and include public hearings.

A full set of the UN UPR recommendations to Malta, made orally today, will be published on 16 November. The full UPR report will be disseminated on 23 November. The UPR outcome report will be adopted at the March 2019 session of the UN Human Rights Council.

For further information, please contact Sarah Clarke, Advocacy Manager, PEN International;; (+44) 7575 030028.