‘Journalists in Malta still remain at tremendous risk.’

Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders didn’t mince her words at the press conference the day after the publication of the Public Inquiry Report. She was emphatic about the dangers to journalists in Malta whose work is carried out in a hostile climate where harassment and threats are commonplace and thus normalised.

Elsewhere, Matthew Caruana Galizia has spoken about how the attacks on his mother he witnessed growing up led him to assume that this was simply part and parcel of what it meant to be a journalist. It would be impossible for any child to grasp that their mother was the target of a decades-long hate campaign that, ultimately, would result in her assassination. It isn’t normal.

The situation in Malta is far from normal and this is starkly evidenced by the findings of the Public Inquiry, one forced into being by the abnormality of an investigative journalist being blown up in a European country masquerading as a democracy. The gruesome facts documented in the inquiry’s report coupled with the reality of Daphne’s murder should, from any perspective, serve as a much-needed wake-up call.

But this is Malta and, at the deliberate risk of repeating myself, Malta is not a normal country. The events of recent weeks indicate that not only have the recommendations of the Public Inquiry not been heeded, but that their implementation will form yet another struggle in the ongoing fight for justice.

Shortly before the publication of the report, the editor of the Times of Malta, Herman Grech, revealed that an unnamed government politician had advised him to seek police protection for himself and 2 of his journalists because of their reporting on the investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

I had to seek police protection because we’re dealing with some of the worst criminals Malta has ever seen,’ said Grech.

Three days later, the report gave names and faces to some of those ‘worst criminals’ who were/are embedded in the government itself, the State being responsible for creating ‘an atmosphere of impunity, generated at the highest levels in the heart of the administration in Castille, which like an octopus spread to other entities such as regulatory institutions and the Police which led to the collapse of the rule of law’. The ‘orchestrated plan to neutralise the investigative work of the assassinated journalist… was successful precisely because it was centrally organized by the Prime Minister’s office’.

Joseph Muscat’s responsibility is highlighted and collective responsibility is assigned to his cabinet – many of whom remain in Robert Abela’s cabinet – for failing to take action when Caruana Galizia published serious allegations about 17 Black.

Given the ‘ħabib’ proximity between the current justice minister and Yorgen Fenech, the bags of cash passed under tables between Fenech and the breathless Rosianne Cutajar, the Petrus ‘you can’t touch us’ parties hosted by ix-xiħ, and the ghost of sick Schembri hovering above it all, you get a sense of why this criminal cabinet committed collective omertà.

In the abnormal reality of Malta, omertà is the way it works. Why else would an anonymous PL politician whisper words of caution to a newspaper editor? Why wouldn’t this politician go public and warn other journalists and, indeed, his own government of the perilous conditions their citizens were working in? Why willingly jeopardise the lives of others when one journalist had already been assassinated? Why not raise the alarm at a national level?

If we didn’t already know the answer, the Public Inquiry gives it to us on a plate. The collective omertà observed by Muscat’s cabinet occurred ‘several months before the assassination, at a time when violent attacks on the journalist were escalating.’ No-one breathed a word which, together with Muscat protecting his Panama Papers buddies and his WhatsApp pal, Fenech, ‘strengthened the culture of impunity in which operated all the persons involved in the intricacies between political administrators and powerful businessmen about whom Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote. Such impunity was essential for the persons involved in organized crime, irrespective of who they were, and it certainly also facilitated the assassination.’

Having (allegedly) commissioned and organised the assassination, Fenech was left free for a whole year after being exposed as the owner of 17 Black in November 2018. As well as keeping busy on the dark web with Bitcoin orders of cyanide, grenades, machine guns, assault rifles, pistols, and 800 bullets, Fenech decided to throw a whopping great lawsuit at another of those pesky journalists who kept getting in his way. Dreaming he lived in a dictatorship with Keith Schembri’s mum, Fenech hired UK lawyers ACK Law to mount a massive SLAPP against Manuel Delia. Citing Delia as ‘pretty much the easiest win’, Fenech’s intention was to sue the journalist for ‘an absurd figure’ because, to borrow Muscat’s terminology, Delia was annoying him with all his ‘allegations’ about 17 Black, now cited as the main motivation for Daphne’s murder.

In the weeks leading up to his eventual arrest, Fenech was trying to transfer €10 billion via Monaco for a Saudi national – a deal for which he stood to make €50 million in commission – and (also via Monaco) trying to cash over €1.5 million of cheques linked to 17 Black. At the same time, Fenech was planning to take Manuel Delia to the cleaners, using a London law firm to do so.

While this plan was foiled by Fenech’s arrest, attacks on Manuel Delia as well as other journalists haven’t stopped. Neither the damning conclusions of the public inquiry nor its detailed recommendations for the protection of journalists have made a blind bit of difference to those embroiled in Daphne’s brutal killing.

Fresh from his indictment for the assassination, Fenech immediately made demands for a police investigation into Manuel Delia and Jason Azzopardi for what he calls their ‘systematic attack’ on Judge Grixti, the guy who purchased a yacht from Fenech’s father and yet was allowed to give the final decision on the son’s request for bail. This judicial protest was filed by Fenech’s lawyers, two of whom have been charged with attempting to bribe a Times of Malta journalist to elicit favourable coverage for their client.

No coincidence perhaps that further attempts have been made to smear both Manuel Delia and Jason Azzopardi using fake emails sent out in their names with lines worthy of Enid Blyton’s hackneyed Famous Five. Picture the scene. Jason Azzopardi is wearing a trilby, dark shades and turns up the collar of his raincoat as he mutters, ‘Listen to me carefully, Manuel, in case someone’s listening.’ Raising his voice quite loudly in case someone fails to overhear, Jason shouts ‘THE POLICE COMMISSIONER’S NOT GOING TO PUBLISH EMAILS THAT I HAD WITH KEITH! With KEITH! Did you hear me? KEITH!’

It’s almost as believable as the fake website produced in the same format as Truth Be Told but in its twisted alter-ego version of Lies Damn Lies. In this insane rabbit hole, the pretend (e)manuel delia claims that Yorgen Fenech’s lawyers are ‘the best lawyers on [sic] Malta’ and begs forgiveness for ‘attacking’ Judge Grixti. The fake Delia reiterates the message of the equally fake email, expressing sincere gratitude to the Police Commissioner for not making public the (non-existent) emails between Jason Azzopardi and – for the hard of hearing – KEITH SCHEMBRI.

In this Mad March Hare rendition of Confessions of an Opium Eater, the penitent Delia pleads with Charles Mercieca to withdraw his case against him, the same Mercieca who jumped from the Attorney General’s office to Fenech’s defence team and accused Matthew Caruana Galizia, who found the remains of his mum after the explosion which killed her, of ‘playing the victim card’.

It really is like entering the madhouse. Yet the insanity of the disinformation campaign targeted at Manuel Delia is, as he says, designed to deflect right back at him:

Whoever sent these fake emails or made this fake website does not necessarily expect everyone to believe they’re authentic. But what’s going around – looking a bit silly and funny sometimes – is fabricated “evidence” that will in future make its way to social media to “prove” I am crazy.

If you think this is far-fetched, imagine how childish it seems to depict a journalist as a witch. How infantile it appears to perpetuate this image through every means at the disposal of a massive political propaganda machine. How crudely barbaric it is when people who’d never read a single word written by the journalist screamed with delight when the witch, as they called her, was burnt at the stake.

One of those fanning the flames would be that paid-up member of the Yorgen Fenech fan club who, for some bizarre reason, is still allowed to continue teaching history at the University of Malta. History relies on facts and yet Simon Mercieca concocts only lies.

As well as casting wild aspersions about Delia, his wife and the NGO Repubblika, Mercieca used his keen nose for fraudulence to allege that Matthew Xuereb – a Times of Malta journalist and chairman of the Institute of Maltese Journalists – had been running a fake Facebook profile. Xuereb has filed an official police report categorically refuting Mercieca’s outright lies and deluded fantasies. One of Mercieca’s devilish deductions was that the anonymous twitter account ‘BugM’ is actually – cue fanfare as curtains open – an equally mysterious but dodgy-looking thug going by the name of Mark Bugeja.

Replete with a handlebar moustache, this BugM ‘lookalike’ would give the White Flag scammers a run for their money.

And money is one of the things that these seemingly bonkers smear campaigns cost journalists. It costs them money, time, psychological and emotional security, and physical security because, let’s face it, the attacks on both Delia and Xuereb are grounded in support for Yorgen Fenech, a man indicted for the assassination of a journalist and charged with attempting to acquire a mass arsenal of weapons on the dark web. Those who detonated the bomb (allegedly) under Fenech’s command were unafraid to blow up Daphne’s car no matter who else was inside. And just because these particular criminals are currently in jail doesn’t mean the threats stop. Fenech’s desperate WhatsApp chats display exactly how many international connections he’s made across the years. Favour for a favour? I’ll shift a couple of million via my Monaco account.

While writing this piece, I got the news that Newsbook has also been attacked, with another fake website containing a barely coherent diatribe under the name of the real Newsbook journalist, Monique Agius. I’d hazard a guess and say the malicious fraudster/s is on coke. Although barely legible in its rambling stream-of-consciousness insanity, Jason Azzopardi is the target and while even the semi-educated might raise an eyebrow less than halfway through, this is the latest in an orchestrated attack aimed to distort and confuse, undermining the legitimacy of all narratives as it does so.

Talking of coke, I was editing this article when news of more fake websites came rolling in. This time it’s the turn of Net News with a fake news article with fake claims about Jason Azzopardi being a cocaine addict. Are we in some never-ending scene from Leaving Las Vegas which, as it happens, is where Yorgen Fenech took his pals?

The fake websites for Newsbook, Manuel Delia and Net News were registered this week and used the same domain registration service. The following quote refers to Newsbook and Manuel Delia but can now include all three. I also include a warning. There may be more by the time this piece is published:

Both spoof websites appear geared towards seeding doubts about the prosecution’s cases against murder suspect Yorgen Fenech and attacking the credibility of those fighting for justice in these cases.’

Shortly before Daphne’s brutal assassination, Manuel Delia wrote that ‘the problem with Daphne Caruana Galizia is that there is only one of her.’ He was right and even when we get justice for her heinous murder, this will not bring her back. The fact that there was only one Daphne is bleakly self-evident in the Public Inquiry Report:

Her isolation, taken with the reality of the impunity created by the deliberate inactivity of the institutions to perform their duties, translated into a climate of great risk. A climate in which those who wished, tried and succeeded in eliminating it found an opportunity and the opportune time to do so.

This climate of great risk, this culture of impunity, did not disappear with the killing of Daphne. Since the publication of the Public Inquiry report, attacks on journalists have intensified. While writing this piece, 3 fake websites came into being, pretending to be Newsbook, Net News and the website of the anti-corruption NGO, Repubblika.

Daphne was left alone to face the attacks from the criminals she exposed. This cannot happen again. We cannot leave anyone at risk. We cannot leave anyone isolated as a target for those who assassinated Daphne. We cannot say we did not know. We cannot look away.

There is only one Daphne and there will always be. The bastards who killed her thought they could silence her. Their evil actions have had the opposite effect. Her voice and her truth have been amplified by thousands of voices across the world and in a myriad of different ways. Daphne’s powerful voice resounds through the voices of so many.

As Peter Gabriel reminds us in his tribute to Steve Biko: ‘the eyes of the world are watching now, watching now.’

Never be afraid to stand up for what you know is right and never walk away from those who do. The eyes of the world are watching. Each of us must join them, too. We will not, and cannot, be silenced.