A week ago Daphne Caruana Galizia (DCG) was brutally murdered by expert hands normally associated with contract killings. Someone had motivation to shut her up. In a country where we pride ourselves of peace and tranquillity this is was as shocking as it was unexpected.
No need to elaborate why it is shocking. Unexpected because whilst such crimes within criminal gangs settling scores among themselves are not uncommon, using same tactics to shut up a journalist, a blogger or a private individual exercising their right to speak freely, is something we thought would never happen here. Even the victim herself was not expecting such retribution having been refusing police protection and evidently taking little precautions about her own safety.
During this week unfortunately we have seen a mixture of true remorse about the hideous murder mixed with opportunism to exploit this tragic event to perpetrate political objectives.
This is condemnable. There are two issues which must not be confused.
The first is the right to express opinions freely without fear. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” is commonly attributed to Voltaire or people in his circles. George Orwell is quoted saying; “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
This does not mean that the right of free expression comes with complete impunity. If it did it would be usurping other people's right to safeguard their honour and reputation. But retribution for abuse of free speech has to be settled in courts of law. Furthermore penalties for abuse of free speech should be commensurate with the need to protect its right. The removal of criminal libel is thus a good measure introduced by the current government that has been at the receiving end of DCG's criticism for decades. My judgement is as always based on deeds not words. So the words from accusers that government wants to curtail free speech must be confronted with the tangible measure to remove criminal libel to make it less restrictive on free expression of opinion.
I therefore endorse and applaud all efforts by journalists, civil society and other interest group to band together and pledge that they will not be frightened and that they will pursue the right to free speech with the same vigour as followed by DCG.
The other issue which is equally important is that efforts to make DCG 'santa subito' are to say the least misguided. Her tragedy does not absolve her excesses in character assassination and her lack of objectivity in her reporting which was consistently directed at causing harm to Labour's cause.
DCG was very selective in pursuing and blowing-up stories that could hurt Labour. Whilst leads that could somehow expose faults on persons associated with Labour were followed up vigorously, often without proper investigation and presented as factual rather than mere suspicions, other leads involving PN personalities were rarely followed and certainly not with equivalent dynamism.
DCG was unquestionably the standard bearer for that faction in the PN which upholds that labourites are children of a lesser god, that the PN has a God given right to govern this country, and that pro-Labour democratic choices made by the electorate no matter how clear, consistent and impressive, result from both ignorance and greed of the electorate in choosing those who are feeding them the fruits of corruption.
Confusing the right of free speech with a certificate for DCG journalistic objectivity is a grave error that is being purposely committed by those who want to abuse of the tragic event of last week to further their political agenda.
What sense does it make to call for the resignation of the police commissioner because of this murder? What proof for assertions that law enforcement institutions have been allowed to break down purposely by government? Why are such unproven assertions repeated to international press with a clear purpose to damage the country's reputation?
The search for the truth should be the only thing that matters at this time to find out who was behind this murder. Calls for resignation are a direct challenge to the electoral mandate given just four months ago and a dangerous distraction from the need to devote all energies to solve this murder case. It is quite suspicious that some quarters are more interested in resignations rather than in bringing the cruel perpetrators to justice.
Arguments that the institutions have broken down are a grave insult to people who are doing their utmost in a professional job which returns very little appreciation whilst exposing them to severe personal risks. Why have institutions broken down? Because the police take their time to investigate suspicions to the point of having solid proof that can stand up in a court of law? Because the Attorney General is not free in his position to defend himself and some expect him and his office to interfere in police investigations? Who says that the police are not investigating all accusations irrespective of the colours of the abuse.
My experience speaks the opposite. In the subject case for which I have pending civil libel proceedings against DCG she made very damaging assertions in my regard, presenting them as factual, just three weeks before my appointment as Governor of the Central Bank of Malta. Such accusations take time to defend and disprove. I had no option but to abandon my career dream and asked the Prime Minister to consider me no further. After one year I also voluntarily resigned from my position as Deputy Governor even though my mandate still had three years to run.
It resulted that the same accusations that DCG swallowed without proper search for proof or without due care about evil motivations of informers, were made to the Police directly by the informer in 2006. In 2006 it was a PN administration and certainly there was no political protection in my regard. Yet the police never informed me about these accusations and the only logical conclusion is that the Police were not satisfied, in the absence of proof, with the honesty and veracity of the accuser and the accusations. In 2016 the same accusations were channelled through DCG, who sensing an opportunity to embarrass me and the government, splashed it on to her blog without seeking further proof as she herself admitted during evidence in court.
In 2016, the Police, triggered by DCG's blog, under a Labour administration offered me no favours and investigate they did and how. I spent an awful summer in 2016 going to CID to be questioned and provide evidence to defend myself. In spite of finding no evidence of the alleged wrong doing the police would not even issue a statement to clear my name. So much for favours to Labourites!!
This is not to say that the Institutions need no improvements. They certainly need to learn how to defend themselves and explain their role and the limits of their mandate. They need to hone their communication skills and resources to ensure that the media works for them not against the police during delicate investigations. They certainly need to enrich their investigative resources and capabilities given that economic openness and opulence acquired by the country has imported new risks different from the native risks with which they were familiar.
I am the last person who would seriously suspect that the murder motive was political. It has all characteristics of a contract killing from the criminal world. But suggestions that the motivation could have been political should absolve Labour. Labour was at the receiving end of DCG's criticism for a quarter century. It got immune to it. Some even thought that the criticism was so extreme and wild that it was counter-productive and working in Labour's favour. The election results of 2013 and 2017 seem to suggest so. Then following the June 2017 election DCG turned her guns against the new PN leader and did all she could to blow up his campaign. Having failed she never let up in her criticism of the new PN Leader and made it her mission to ensure that he fails.
For a time these last four months Labour was enjoying DCG tearing apart the new PN leader, not as a favour to Labour, but because she had an inner belief that what she considered as heavy baggage he was carrying would make it impossible for the PN under his leadership to win future elections against Labour. I must say this was a new experience. It was almost enjoyable.
How cruel that new experience when DCG main focus was not Labour had to be cut so short. How cruel that DCG was not allowed to practice what she believed in - the right to express her opinion freely. I repeat Oscar Wilde: “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”