The Malta Independent 27 November 2021, Saturday

Updated: Malta's behaviour extremely concerning, unacceptable from EU State – PEN International

Giulia Magri Wednesday, 12 December 2018, 08:42 Last update: about 4 years ago

PEN International’s policy and advocacy manager, Sarah Clarke, has stressed that the actions of the Maltese delegation at a United Nations conference are “unacceptable from an EU Member State,” in response to being verbally insulted by an aide to Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela

Clarke was called a “biased sh*th*le” by Sandro Mangion, an assistant to Minister Abela, during the UN’s Global Compact on Migration in Marrakesh, Morocco.


Yesterday, the United Nations celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a compact hosting over seven thousand people, including top human rights advocates such as former Irish President Mary Robinson and former Chilean President Michelle Bachalet.

Speaking to this newspaper yesterday, Clarke said that most of the statements made throughout the conference related to migration, and was surprised, therefore, when Minister Abela chose to talk to about freedom of expression. She said she was surprised that “Malta, of all countries, would highlight the importance of freedom of expression and how its government is working to promote freedom of expression.”

She approached the Maltese delegation to ask for a copy of the statement. When asked what she thought of it, Clarke told the delegation that “the Government of Malta would have a lot more credibility when making a statement on the freedom of expression if it conducted a public inquiry [into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia].”

Identifying herself as a member of PEN International, the Maltese delegation accused her of spreading ‘false information’.

“They scoffed at me and told me I did not know what I was talking about,” after which Clarke informed them that she had been working on the case for the past year and had formed part of a freedom of expression delegation visiting Malta in October. This, she said, was followed with only more accusations, such as that that she had not spoken to the ‘right people’ in Malta.

Clarke informed both Minister Abela and Mangion that she had met Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and the Attorney General Peter Grech.

Regardless, Clarke was still accused of being ‘biased’. Nevertheless, she pressed Minister Abela on whether he knew if the government was looking into who murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, to which the minister replied: “The family have full faith in the investigation”.

She said that this was far from true since the Caruana Galizia family had had to resort to the Constitutional Court to rectify the involvement of certain people in the investigation.

Clarke was once again accused of being misinformed and biased. While the Maltese delegation was walking out of the room, Mangion called her a “biased sh*th*le.” When asked whether she could quote his vulgar remark, Mangion told her she could go ahead and “quote away.”

Clarke stressed that the focus should not be on her, but on the actions and behaviour of the Maltese government. Last November, the Maltese government submitted a report to the UN in which no mention was made of the Daphne Caruana Galizia case when it came to freedom of expression. The behaviour of the Maltese government — an EU government — only showed its poor understanding of human rights and freedom of expression, Clarke said.

She said she enjoyed far better protection than journalists or protesters fighting for justice in Malta. Clarke, who has been working with the UN for over 11 years, said that she had never experienced such behaviour before. She expressed her concerned that “that the Maltese government feels it can act this way,” describing the situation as ‘scary’. She stressed that Maltese civil society members and their human rights must be protected. She stressed that this was unacceptable behaviour from an EU state, and that such behaviour needed to change.

Clarke says she expects an apology and a guarantee that Maltese journalists and activists will be safeguarded, adding that the coalition comprised of PEN International, CSJ, RFJ, EFJ and ECPMF — the world’s leading experts on freedom of expression — consider the incident an unacceptable reprisal against civil society engaging in human rights advocacy at the United Nations.

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom has also described Mangion’s behaviour as unacceptable, demanding that the Maltese government hold him to account and issue an immediate apology.

Mangion reacts

Sandro Mangion said he was upset at Clarke's decision to use the high-level event to "launch unfounded claims" against the Foreign Minister in relation to the Caruana Galizia murder case.

He apologised for the choice of words and insisted he was not referring to Clarke on a personal level but to the "unscrupulous network" that was feeding her unproven allegations.

"I think some context needs to be provided: Ms Clarke came to sit on one of the chairs reserved for Malta at the event and asked me for a copy of the Minister’s speech, to which request I obliged. She then started launching accusations at Malta’s Foreign Minister. Each time he attempted to give a reply, she was not interested in listening and simply kept throwing back at him the same allegations," Mangion said.

At one point, Abela rose from his seat and began to walk towards the exit to leave for the next appointment, with Clarke in tow.

"It was at that point that, as I felt she was acting in an inappropriate manner and that she should have engaged the minister outside, calmly, I uttered the words “biased” and “shithole” in a low voice. I apologise profusely if any offence was taken, but I was certainly not referring to Sarah Clarke herself. I used those words to refer to the unscrupulous network by which she is obviously being fed unproven allegations that she kept parroting without having bothered to check her facts," Mangion insisted.

"The Foreign Minister has never shied away from conversations of this kind - she could have sought a private conversation, if indeed she was interested in getting answers to her allegations," Mangion said.

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