The Malta Independent 1 March 2021, Monday

Journalist lock-up: Government MPs ‘trying to delay’ committee debate on Hyzler report – Aquilina

Neil Camilleri Tuesday, 23 February 2021, 08:11 Last update: about 6 days ago

The government members on Parliament’s Ethics Committee are “trying to delay” a debate on a report by Standards Czar George Hyzler on the ‘lock-up’ of journalists at Castille in November 2019, PN MP Karol Aquilina has claimed.

The report was handed over to Speaker Anglu Farrugia a week and a half ago, yet, the Ethics Committee has not yet decided on a date when the debate on its findings will start.

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When a report by the Standards Commissioner is not published and is instead passed on to the Speaker, it means that an ethics breach has been found. In fact, it has been reported that Hyzler found that the Office of the Prime Minister breached ethics when it kept journalists locked up after the early morning press conference. Joseph Muscat was Prime Minister at the time.

The report cannot be published until after it is discussed by the Ethics Committee, but the MPs sitting on the committee have been given a copy.

The committee is chaired by Speaker Anglu Farrugia. Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri represent the government, while Karol Aquilina and Carm Mifsud Bonnici represent the Opposition.

Therese Comodini Cachia, the party’s spokesperson on Good Governance is set to replace Mifsud Bonnici.

Speaking to The Malta Independent, Aquilina said he had immediately written to the Speaker when the report was handed over to the committee two weeks ago, and asked him to set a date for the debate to start.

After some days, the Speaker proposed that the debate should start this week, but the government members said they were “unavailable,” Aquilina said.

Farrugia then proposed that the debate should start next week, but the government MPs are yet to confirm their availability. Aquilina said the government members of the committee were “doing everything they can to delay the debate,” which he described as very urgent.

Contacted by this newsroom, the Speaker said he was still working to find a date that is suitable for all committee members but insisted there are no “issues.”

Hyzler’s investigation came after a complaint was filed by the Institute of Maltese Journalists.

The incident took place on 29 November 2019, when journalists were called in for a 3am press conference at the Auberge de Castille.

Journalists had been called in for a 3am press conference after Cabinet spent the day discussing a request for a presidential pardon by Yorgen Fenech, who stands charged of being a mastermind in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. The request was refused.

At the end of the press conference, journalists were blocked from leaving the room for a few minutes, with OPM staff saying that this was done to give then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the rest of the Cabinet time to leave the room.

The doors were kept shut by unofficial security personnel.

The case had also ended up in court, but three of the security officials - Jody Pisani, Mark Gauci and Emanuel McKay – were cleared of detaining journalists against their will.

 

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