At 3 pm on 16 October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, one of Malta’s best-known journalists, was killed by a car bomb directly outside her own home. The bomb robbed the country’s media of one of its most prolific members of the past thirty years. Mogens Blicher Bjerregård, leader of the European Federation of Journalists, described the murder of Galizia as an attack on all European journalists, on investigative journalism and on the public’s right to information through the free press.
On the afternoon of 16 October last year, I received a short message from a Maltese journalist “Did you hear about Daphne?” In the hours after Daphne’s murder, Facebook was inundated with updates from my Maltese friends, and speculations had started almost before the physical remains of the well-known journalist had been removed. Daphne’s voice had been gagged for good.
Like so many others, my first reaction was to log onto ‘Running Commentary’, her very personal and active blog. She had updated it just before her death.
At 2.35 on 16 October, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote that she was following a lead on some of Malta’s most prominent politicians:
“Mr Schembri is claiming that he is not corrupt, despite moving to set up a secret company in Panama along with favourite minister Konrad Mizzi and Mr Egrant just days after Labour won the general election in 2013, sheltering it in a top-secret trust in New Zealand, then hunting around the world for a shady bank that would take them as clients. […]
There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate”.
Half an hour after writing this blog post she was dead.
A year later people are still not sure who is responsible for ordering Daphne’s death, but there is no shortage of speculation. Recently I have been in touch with some of Malta’s most prominent journalists, bloggers, and people from the world of media, politics, and culture and received several pieces of information.
A common theme for many of them is the need to find the truth as to who wanted Daphne dead. The challenge is that they have very different opinions about who ordered the murder.
WHO WAS DAPHNE?
Daphne Caruana Galizia was a journalist and a blogger, often described as an anti-corruption activist, who wrote about political events in Malta from 1987 until her murder in 2017. She was especially known for her sharp and critical views on matters concerning state corruption, nepotism, money laundering, the increasing connection between the online gambling industry and organized crime on the island and Malta’s ‘Citizenship by Investment Programme,’ also referred to as the ‘Golden Visa’.
Daphne was the first Maltese journalist to write about companies in Panama before they were leaked in the Panama Papers in April 2016. In February of that year, she had already hinted in her blog that the Maltese minister Konrad Mizzi had connections to Panama and New Zealand. A few days later she came across a similar statement about the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Chief of Staff, Keith Schembri. Daphne was quite ruthless in her criticism of Muscat and had been the Labour party’s fiercest critic throughout her career. In early 2017, Galizia claimed that she had evidence that there was a document proving that Michelle Muscat was also the owner of a company in Panama called Egrant. This was possibly the biggest news story that she had ever written, and, in the year that followed, the story got more column inches than almost any other issue in Maltese newspapers.
IL-PINNA TIRBAĦ LILL-BIŻA
During her thirty years as a journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote for two major Maltese newspapers. She began her career at The Sunday Times of Malta in 1987, where she quickly became a regular columnist. In 1992, she moved to the more conservative newspaper The Malta Independent where she stayed until she died. During the days following her murder, both the daily and weekly columns written by Daphne were left as black blank spaces. The morning after the murder in the newspaper for which she worked the following was written “For many people reading her blog was the first and last thing they did during their day. Now there is just emptiness.”
The day after Daphne’s murder all Maltese newspapers had identical front pages, a black full page with the text “The Pen Conquers Fear, IL-PINNA TIRBAĦ LILL-BIŻA.” That is, without doubt, the theme running through her personal blog “Running Commentary”, an approach that the contentious journalist had stuck to and one which resulted in such controversial stories.
Both Daphne’s methods and her obvious and repeated criticism of the whole Labour party as an institution for the past 25 years have gained momentum. Many believe that she repeatedly crossed the line when writing about people in the public eye and their private lives.
She possessed a voice that divided people, but she was, without doubt, somebody that no readers felt indifferent about. Daphne demanded engagement. Right up until her final words.
LAYER BY LAYER
Daphne had studied archaeology, and several of her colleagues compared her journalistic methods to this discipline. She revealed her stories layer by layer so that the small details were of importance.
Her son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, described his mother as someone who genuinely believed in humor as a method of undermining corrupt people and others who take advantage of their position. This was exactly the method that made her a threat to these people. Her son claimed several times that her blog aroused such a strong reaction among Malta’s male elite because they disliked being publicly criticized by a woman.
Daphne was at times torn between her love for the country in which she grew up and a feeling of being like a stranger on that little island. Just days before she died, she was interviewed by a researcher from the European Council. In this interview, she talked about how she at times felt that aspects of the country’s culture were stuck in the middle ages: “Just look at the words they often use about me. The word ‘witch’. [The word ‘witch’ in Maltese is very derogatory and can only be used about women.] When was it that women were called witches? Before enlightenment.”
In the days following Daphne’s death, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate and show their disgust at corruption, and their support for journalists. Demonstrating together were journalists, readers, and those who demanded answers. Placards with the words “Demand Justice”, “We will not be silenced”, and “Journalists’ lives matter” were paraded along Republic Street in Valletta, ending outside the Court of Justice and The Great Siege monument.
On the 16thof each month, hundreds of people continue to gather to remember the journalist and call for an independent investigation into the case.
Today, more than one year after the murder, a memorial still stands full of flowers, candles, and placards with memories. The flowers and candles are regularly removed, but it doesn’t take long before they are replaced.
A BOMB IN BIDNIJA
A 20-minute drive north of Valletta, between the picturesque inland town of Mosta and the lively tourist town of St Paul’s Bay, is the secluded village of Bidnija. With just 308 residents it is Malta’s second smallest town.
It is here that a large part of Malta’s fruit and vegetables are grown, and when we visit the harvest of olives are in full swing. At first sight, Bidnija appears to be the epitome of country life. There is little to suggest that this is the site of the most frequently discussed murder in recent Maltese history.
It feels as if Daphne’s murder hangs like a physical presence over the little town. Along the main road, just a few meters from Daphne’s home Dar Rihana [House in the Wind] there stands a large monument in the middle of a field, impossible to miss driving in and out of the village. On the site at which her car exploded, just several meters away, there are placards, flags, flowers, and candles placed.
Like many memorials, it is a symbolic call for justice. Written across a banner are the words “JUSTICIA” and in large writing “Who killed Daphne?” and “Who ordered Daphne’s Murder?”. These are just some of the many messages placed at the scene.
On the afternoon of 16 October last year, Daphne and her son Matthew had been sitting at home working. A little before 3 pm, Daphne left the house. Matthew later said that he heard a loud explosion and knew at once that it was a car bomb. Matthew ran out of the house and a few meters away was the burning car. The remains of his mother were strewn 80 meters from where the explosion took place.
“When I arrived at the scene, it looked like a war zone, there were several fires in different places on the road and body parts spread over the ground”.
LAND OF HONEY
Two weeks after the murder, the remains of Daphne Caruana Galizia were laid to rest. Present at the funeral were several thousand people who had come to pay their respects, but neither Malta’s President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca or Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was present. The family of Caruana Galizia had made it clear that they were not welcome. The ceremony was conducted by Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who, in his eulogy, among other things, addressed the country’s journalists and said, “Never grow weary in your mission to be the eyes, the ears and the mouth of the people.”
Without putting it into context it is difficult to get an understanding of what Daphne Caruana Galizia meant to Maltese journalists. Female journalists were barely welcomed in the Maltese media before the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties. They were allowed, of course, to contribute small, pleasant articles on housekeeping tips, clothes, and recipes, but a female investigative journalist was unthinkable.
The history of Malta began around 5200 BC when the group of islands was populated by Sicilians. In the course of history, the Phoenicians, Romans, and Greeks have all added the small country to their territory. The Greeks called Malta “Melita”, “….”, meaning “honey sweet”, and despite the small island archipelagos being besieged, bombed, and occupied many times since then, the name, language, and rich culture have been retained.
Malta has two official languages, Maltese and English. Similar to Arabic and Hebrew, Maltese belongs to the Semitic group of languages. Maltese is the only Semitic language written with the Latin alphabet. The language is based on Maghrebi-Arabic and is a very important part of the people’s cultural heritage.
Most writers decide at a fairly young age whether to express themselves in either English or Maltese. Daphne came from the town of Sliema, where English, particularly when she was young, was the language used most frequently. It was, therefore, natural for Daphne to do most of her writing in English, something that has made her blog accessible to both the inhabitants of Malta who don’t speak Maltese and to readers outside of the country.
Malta was a British colony from 1813 but became independent on 21 September 1964, just a month after Daphne was born. In 1974, Malta became a republic and in 2004 a member of the EU. Particularly turbulent years of Maltese politics occurred in the 80s, and it was there, together with the intense fighting between the ruling Labour party and the Nationalist party in opposition, that provided the young Daphne with the motivation to become an activist. At a political demonstration, aged 19, Daphne was arrested and spent two days in prison. She never forgave the Labour party for the troubled years of the seventies and eighties. In 1987, the Nationalist Party came to power, and Daphne began seriously her career as a political commentator.
When she was not being the fearless and critical journalist who wrote about corruption and politics, Daphne had another side to her. She was also the Editor in Chief of the lifestyle magazineTaste and Flair, which came out monthly as a supplement in the newspaper The Malta Independent. Through this, Daphne shared another side of the country that she thought was so beautiful. She wrote about Malta’s hidden gardens, olive groves, vineyards, antiques, and the country’s many old palaces. In Taste and Flair, she wrote that Malta was full of hope. Here there was nothing to indicate the grim, sometimes aggressive subjects and words which could be read in her blog. Perhaps this was a breath of fresh air for her.
Daphne observed the small details, was very thorough and was often described as a perfectionist. Just two weeks after she was killed, the last issue of Taste and Flair with Daphne as Editor in Chief was published, although it was her three sons who had to finish the final editorial column.
“This edition of Taste and Flair, number 104, is compelling. Our mother had already begun the work on this edition before she was brutally taken from us. Her work ethic was such that she followed each issue through the whole process regardless of what else was going on around her. In this spirit, we have decided to finish what she started […] This edition of Taste and Flair is our tribute to her. Bringing this out has brought us joy. We hope it does the same for you.”
Matthew, Andrew, and Paul Caruana Galizia
Since November 2017, Taste and Flair continues to be issued every month with Daphne’s three sons as Editors.
A LIFE WITH THREATS
Daphne’s family – her three sons Matthew, Andrew, and Paul, and her husband, the lawyer Peter Caruana Galizia – said in an interview, just a few days after the murder, that they were not surprised that someone had finally managed to silence her powerful voice. Her son Matthew is himself a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and was very aware of the danger his mother had exposed herself to. The family told of a life filled with threats and fear. In 1996 someone had attempted to burn the family’s front door down. The family’s dog had his throat cut and was left on the steps leading up to their house. Two stacks of tires were soaked in petrol, placed outside their house and set alight as the family lay sleeping in their beds. Daphne and her husband were saved because their youngest son arrived home and discovered the fire. Threats by letter, telephone, text messages, notes posted on the door, emails and comments on the blog were part of daily life according to her son Matthew. Eventually, the Caruana Galizia family built a high wall around their idyllic country home. But it was not enough to stop the bomb from being placed underneath Daphne’s little rented Peugeot.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s controversial blog posts also resulted in several fair trials. When she was murdered she was involved in legal battles with 12 different people in 42 different libel suits. In addition, the Supreme Court decided to freeze her bank account in anticipation of a trial where she accused the finance minister of visiting a brothel in Germany when he was on an official EU visit. Freezing the bank accounts of individuals has long been possible in Malta’s legislation, but has rarely been actioned.
Daphne’s husband has said in several interviews that he was afraid for her safety. In an interview with the Times of Malta in the spring, he said that following the election in June 2017 Daphne had considered stopping her blog, and her readers would have noticed reduced activity for a few weeks. Her husband said that Daphne had seemed anxious towards the end of her life as if she suspected that the situation could end horribly. After the opposition party, the Nationalist Party gained a new leader, she felt that both parties were strongly against her. However, Daphne continued to write and her blog was at its most active from then until a couple of hours before she was killed.
THE DAPHNE PROJECT
Since her death, 45 journalists from 15 different countries and 18 different news media outlets, including Le Monde, Reuters, The New York Times, The Guardian, Times of Malta, la Repubblica, andDie Zeit, joined forces to continue to investigate the story that Daphne had begun. There is little doubt that cooperation is the best protection, and that killing a journalist will not lead to silence if there are many other journalists who are similarly persuaded. The journalists who comprise The Daphne Project share a common goal, to inform the public about the corruption and laundering of money in Malta and the EU, based on the evidence that Daphne had gathered together over the past thirty years.
They stress that those who had Daphne killed are the losers. They killed a 53-year-old woman, a journalist and a mother of three children. Wherever those who wished her dead are today, Daphne’s story is still being told.
This year The Daphne Project, in honor of the dead journalist, was nominated in the Online Journalism Awards in the category ‘The Small Newsroom’. For many months the 45 journalists have secretly collated and documented information, not just about Malta, but according to the OJAs website “investigation topics of relevance for the whole European Union and countries such as the United States, Russia, Iran,…which were being worked on by Daphne Caruana Galizia at the time of her death.”
The Daphne Project is still looking for new collaborations across the world. Their findings can be followed on the website ‘Forbidden Stories’.
BUY ME WINE, MY LOVE
The killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia marked the sixth car bomb in Malta since the start of 2016. It was the first that was targeted at someone not known to be a criminal and the fourth that ended in death. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has received some strong criticism for his handling of the case, and the country is very divided as to who they think is behind the murder.
Members from both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party go to some lengths to implicate each other in terms of who had the most to gain from Daphne’s death. Many go so far as to directly accuse both parties, individually, to have something to do with the murder. There is also speculation that Daphne was about to reveal details of a large criminal gang, something the use of a car bomb might implicate.
Three men have been arrested and charged with Daphne’s murder, brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat. Interestingly, none of these three men had ever been in contact with Daphne or her family, and colleagues say that she had never mentioned them. The three accused have declared themselves to be not guilty, but the evidence against them leaves little room for doubt.
At 14.58 on 16 October, a mobile phone synchronized to an object under Galizia’s car received the following text message “REL1=ON”. It triggered an electrical connection that detonated the explosive package attached under the car seat. A variety of different mobile telephones of the Nokia 105 model were used in the location where the bomb that killed Daphne was detonated. All of them were connected to the three alleged perpetrators. A few minutes after the bomb went off, George Degiorgio sent a text message to his partner which said: “buy me wine, my love”.
All three declined to say anything about who is responsible for ordering the murder. They may not even know themselves.
A word being used in Malta about Daphne’s murder case is “impunity”, meaning immunity from criminal prosecution or judicial immunity. Just two days after Daphne’s murder the well-known CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour interviewed Prime Minister Muscat on her programme. She started by saying that it was a murder that didn’t just shock Malta, but the whole world, and asked Muscat to tell her all he knew about the murder. It was still early in the investigation, but Muscat underlined that this was a matter that they took very seriously and that Malta was a country which was grieving but stoic.
Amanpour underlined that the journalist was killed 30 minutes after she had posted in her blog, accusing the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff of corruption. Muscat confirmed that she had previously written worse things about him, his wife, and his ministers and that there was no basis to connect this last post with the journalist’s murder. During the interview, he emphasized several times that it was his mission to protect the country’s freedom of expression.
Amanpour refers further to a post-Daphne’s son Matthew wrote on Facebook the same morning: “A culture of impunity has been allowed to flourish by the government of Malta. It is of little comfort for the Prime Minister of this country to say he will ‘not rest’ until the perpetrators are found when he heads a government that encouraged the same impunity.”
Muscat replied that, out of respect for a son who writes after he has found his mother killed in a car bomb, he chooses not to comment on this. He emphasized that his task as prime minister is to ensure that the guilty party is brought to justice. In her final question to Prime Minister Muscat, Amanpour asked him if he could guarantee that there would not be any form of “impunity” regardless of who the person responsible turns out to be, even if they are among the elite of Malta. Prime Minister Muscat ended the interview with the following words: “There will be absolutely no impunity for anyone, this is a country where rule of law reigns supreme, and I will make sure that justice is done and there will be no impunity for anyone be it from any part of the political spectrum if there is politics involved, or from any other sector.”
In the Spring of 2018, the Italian newspaper la Republic produced a documentary film about Daphne’s murder. The film was premiered at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia, and one of the main contributors was Norwegian Eva Joly.
She spoke of how the execution of Daphne came as a shock. “It was so brutal and clearly demonstrates that freedom of speech is under attack. We can do what we want, we are the mighty, the rich, and you, civilians and journalists, don’t poke your nose into our affairs. That’s how I understand and see to be the essence of this murder.” Joly goes to great lengths to express her concern about the investigation and emphasizes the need for an independent review of the killing of the Maltese journalist. Several times in the documentary she uses the same word as Christiane Amanpour used with Prime Minister Muscat, “impunity”.
“In Malta ‘impunity’ exists,” Eva Joly told the Italian filmmakers. “’Impunity’ for money laundering, ‘impunity’ for selling citizenship. We had already begun to shine a spotlight on the problem of Malta and corruption long before Daphne was murdered.”
Eva Joly ended the documentary with a message to the deceased journalist: “Dear Daphne, first of all, I must say I admire you, and I want to tell you that we will not forget you, we will not forget what you tried to tell the public. You will be remembered for everything you did, and we will take care of your memory.”
In her honor, the press room of the European Parliament Building in Strasbourg has now been officially renamed as the Daphne Caruana Galizia Press Room.
Kristina Quintano (43) is a publisher, translator, and journalist. She is half Maltese and half Norwegian. Parts of this article has also been printed in Prosa.no