It was around 3 p.m. on October 16, 2017, when Matthew Caruana Galizia, who was working at home, heard a loud blast. Because it sounded like the explosion had taken place close by, he popped out to see what had happened. What he saw was shocking. His mother’s car had been blown to smithereens, killing her instantly. “I looked down and there were my mother’s body parts all around me”, he wrote on his Facebook page.
Shortly before leaving the house, Matthew’s mother, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a well-known Maltese blogger and investigative journalist who had been following up on revelations from the Panama Papers, had posted a piece on her blog that ended with the words “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate”. These were the last words Daphne wrote before she was assassinated one year ago in a car bombing near her home in Bidnija, Malta.
The killing shocked the world. The fact that a journalist had been targeted in an EU member state led to disbelief and demands for a quick investigation. The motive behind the killing appeared to be clear: Daphne had been targeted for her work on exposing corruption in all spheres of Maltese public life.
Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, assured that the killers would be brought to justice. International experts were requested to assist in the investigation.
A year later there has been little progress in identifying and prosecuting those responsible. Only three people have been arrested so far. The international demand for results is growing louder, but the Muscat government is failing to deliver.
IPI recently met with Matthew for a conversation about how the family is coping with the aftermath of Daphne’s murder.
IPI: A year after the assassination of your mother, your family has gone through turbulent times. How are you all coping?
MCG: Every member of my family and I, we all feel the same way that the investigation of the murder isn’t going anywhere. There is a complete reluctance to dig deeper, to go beyond the three people who are currently in custody, who are at the bottom of the chain of people involved in my mother’s assassination. It’s approaching one year since assassination and we haven’t gotten anywhere beyond them, which is unbearable to us, for the European Union, for any decent human being.
The government seems to be taking such an adverse, kind of nonchalant approach to the assassination, as if my mother were run over by a bus. They are pretending that it is just something normal that happened.
We decided to focus on the things only we can do as a family, like working with international press NGOs, working with our lawyers in Malta and internationally on trying to make sure that there is a proper investigation in Malta – which, so far, there hasn’t been. Earlier this year, we did something that was one of the difficult things I have ever done, for my brothers as well, which was to organize an event to start a Council of Europe investigation into my mother’s assassination. The Council has appointed an independent investigator, Pieter Omztigt. We have a lot of faith in him.
We really think that these kinds of initiatives are important because they are one of the many ways in which we can bring our state to account. We are in this absurd situation where we expect the state to provide protection to my mother but at the same time it is the same people who wanted her dead. So we have to rely on international organizations and other governments to work out what the state’s involvement in my mother’s assassination was. States like Malta and Turkey, they really care about their international image. It really bothers the government if it looks bad in the international forum.
As for my mother’s stories, thankfully, just a couple of weeks after the murder, a group of journalists were brought together by French journalist Laurent Richard, who set up an organization called Forbidden Stories. 49 journalists are now investigating my mother’s murder and the stories she was working on (Ed: the results are published by Forbidden Stories and a network of international media as the #DaphneProject).
IPI: How have the people of Malta themselves reacted? What do they tell you when they see you?
MCG: People have been traumatized. This is another sign it isn’t a free society. Before my mother was murdered, people I didn’t know would come up to me in the street and would come up to my mother saying, “Thank you for what you are doing” and so on. No one does that anymore. People are traumatized, they are scared. They don’t know what to do. It’s a really bad sign.
It’s [the fact that there has not been a larger outcry] probably tied to Malta’s complicated political climate and the sort of anthropology of Maltese people, the kind of culture where people are very money-minded, the mercantile. It’s a culture where you only do things if it serves your personal endurance, which is why a lot of what my brothers and I are trying to do is really change that culture. That’s the culture my mother was fighting and it’s ultimately the culture that led to her murder.
IPI: What do you foresee in the next year: Will there be a breakthrough, will we able to achieve something as a movement to bring those responsible to justice?
MCG: Yes, I think we can [achieve something], but it is up to us. It is up to my family, it’s up to the people who are working with us. The state is actively working against us and against justice. We are fighting this entire apparatus. What we are doing is breaking it down because it is really toxic – it not something that is ever going to serve the interest of justice. But I know we will win because we are on the right side.
IPI: Pressure is mounting on the government of Malta to expedite investigation. The European Union and civil society organizations continue to press for progress. Why do you think the government of Malta has failed to deliver and how are they are able to resist this pressure?
MCG: Because they haven’t paid any price for it yet. Joseph Muscat and his allies have paid absolutely no price for what they have done. Despite all this pressure, they haven’t suffered in any way. Murdering a journalist has cost them almost nothing so far. We have to reach a point where they really feel the heat, where slowly this edifice that they have created starts to crumble, where people who are allied with them, people used as tools start to face the consequences, both for the crimes they committed that my mother reported on, and for possible involvement in the assassination itself.
IPI: What can civil society organizations, media freedom organizations and people generally do to counter the situation, to make sure the investigation proceeds?
MCG: International organizations have done a really good job supporting my family and me. It’s really important to us to have this international backing. There are several small civil society organizations like Aditus, Kenniesa, Occupy Justice and Grafitti among others that have come up in Malta. I think that these new organizations need the same international backing. They need to flourish. They are trying to gain ground in a context which is very, very difficult to work in. The few people who are doing something are really, really brave and need to be supported.
Malta is kind of a blind spot within the field of international organizations, or at least it was a blind spot for a long time. My mother really suffered in silence for a long time. Now we need to direct attention to the people on the ground in Malta who are doing all they can in the fight against corruption.
IPI: The government did launch a campaign to malign you and your family because of this.
MCG: Yes, calling us enemies of the state.
IPI: Did the government campaign have an impact?
MCG: Of course, we suffered. No one wants to be in that position. We should be left to grieve and to remember our mother and to live fulfilling lives, to be free of this kind of abuse and fear, as my mother should have been. In a normal country where the rule of law exists and where people don’t live in the fear of government, you never live like this [with this abuse]. You never live with the threat of murder or violence hanging over you.
It’s obviously going to be difficult. We have to think strategically, we have to stick together, fight together. People have to put aside personal differences. But I know that because we are fighting on the right side, we are going to win.
This interview has been condensed from its original length.