The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

Abela’s consent

Kevin Cassar Sunday, 26 September 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 26 days ago

What was conspicuous were the hostile actions against Daphne Caruana Galizia, most of it orchestrated by persons occupying positions in state entities, including the Office of the Prime minister. This was conclusion 22c of the Caruana Galizia inquiry.

The Board was treading cautiously, words measured. The persons responsible for those hostile actions named in the inquiry report were Labour’s chosen ones. They included Labour appointees like Neville Gafa, MPs like Glenn Bedingfield, Chris Cardona, Owen Bonnici, Labour Minister Helena Dalli’s son, Luke and Zurrieq mayor Natius Farrugia. These “persons occupying positions in state entities” weren’t civil servants. They were Labour’s core, promoted and defended by their Leader.

The Board “considers this hostility an illicit action that vilified and demonized the person of the journalist”. That hostility was committed by Labour’s officials who “contributed actively to the sustained campaign of dehumanisation, inspired by hate”.

The man responsible, Joseph Muscat, never took any action to rein them in. Glenn Bedingfield testified that Muscat never asked him to tone down, even when he uploaded her car number-plate, a gift for her assassins. Bedingfield’s harassment took its toll on her. She reported him to the OCSE describing his blog as “the instrument of (systematic) government targeting”. Joseph Muscat even contacted Frans Sammut, a Labour intellectual, to convince him to contribute to a blog to attack Caruana Galizia, according to Sammut’s son.

The Board was categorical.  It was “satisfied the evidence is convincing that the state was ultimately responsible for the environment that facilitated the murder, through positive acts of vilification, insults and harassment by high ranking administration officials”. The majority of those officials were part of Joseph Muscat’s group - all part of Labour’s core.

The Board of Inquiry’s terms of reference were deliberately narrow. They tasked the Board to investigate State entities, not political parties.  That explains why the report’s accusations are levelled at “persons occupying positions in state entities”.  The truth is that those persons were a key part of Labour. The tragedy is that most still are, amongst them Glenn Bedingfield, disturbingly still party whip and party representative on the parliamentary standards committee, despite broadcasting the number plate of the car in which the bomb was planted.

The inquiry report went further.  It recommended a police unit be set up to identify individuals (not just journalists) at risk of serious attacks, including physical violence. Specialised personnel within the police force should train to recognise the value of journalism. The report emphasised that the police should not perceive journalists as enemies. And should do everything possible to protect them and the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

It is almost two months since that report was published. The recommendation to protect individuals at risk is self-evident. It’s what the police exists for.  After Caruana Galizia’s persecution and brutal end, the police should not have needed any prodding to act.  Yet even today when government critics receiving threatening anonymous letters report these to the police they are not even contacted, far less protected.

Caruana Galizia’s murder was not enough to jolt the police into action.  Nor were the clear recommendations of the report. What are they waiting for?  More tragedies?

What is Robert Abela waiting for to start implementing the recommendations of that report?

He knows full well from the report and detailed testimony who the culprits were. They’re all around him. But inaction speaks louder than words. Abela’s total unwillingness to address the disturbing culture of hostility, intimidation, dehumanisation, and vilification created by those within his own party is absolutely staggering. Abela’s failure to remove Bedingfield from party whip and representative on the Standards committee probably betrays his failure to recognise Bedingfield’s recklessness and irresponsibility, highlighted in the inquiry report. Or maybe Abela recognises the damage done by Bedingfield but sanctioning him carries too high a political price. Or worse believes Bedingfield’s underhand revolting tactics are to his benefit and might come in handy soon enough.

The inquiry report made other recommendations, amongst them revision of the Media Act to ensure that frivolous libel cases by those occupying public office would no longer be possible.  Instead of amending the Media Act to eliminate frivolous libel suits, Labour’s leading lights continue to use libel to intimidate, harass and silence dissenting voices.  Competitive authoritarian regimes often actively seek to suppress dissenting voices by using various methods of repression - bribery, selective allocation of state advertising, and restrictive press laws that facilitate prosecution of critics.

The Open Society Institute reported that in Croatia independent newspapers were hit by more than 230 libel suits in 1997. Armenia’s government used libel suits to silence press criticism after the country’s controversial 1996 election. Caruana Galizia had 47 pending libel suits, 5 criminal, when she was eliminated. Henley and Partners had the blessing of Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Owen Bonnici, and Jonathan Attard to ruin her financially through UK based SLAPP lawsuits. For his efforts, Jonathan Attard was rewarded by Robert Abela with a seat in parliament.

But efforts to repress critics may be costly to incumbents. In 1996 Tudjman’s Croatian government tried to revoke the licence of Radio 101. Massive protests broke out galvanizing the opposition and splitting the ruling party.  In Ukraine in 2000, President Kuchma was accused of ordering the murder of a critical journalist.  Large domestic protests and isolation from the West ensued.

Malta is living through similar circumstances. Labour’s most vocal critic was brutally assassinated. The inquiry accused several prominent Labour officials and MPs for having created the hostile environment that facilitated that assassination.  That inquiry was fiercely resisted for months by Labour.  Rosianne Cutajar and Manuel Mallia ferociously opposed it at the Council of Europe parliamentary assembly. Labour now actively undermines its report.

Two months have passed since the report was published. Robert Abela has done nothing. Meanwhile Labour party elements persist with their harassment, intimidation and dehumanisation of dissenters, unrestrained by their consenting leader. In Caruana Galizia’s words “they have absolutely no red lines”. How right she was.

 

Jonathan Attard replies

 

Note:

The reference to Dr Jonathan Attard in the said article was an error on the part of author Kevin Cassar as the person involved was Dr Johnathan Cardona  who was copied in to the e mails between Henley and Partners in relation to SLAPP lawsuits against Daphne Caruana Galizia, and not Dr Jonathan Attard

The author has personally contacted Dr Jonathan Attard to apologise for his error and to assure him that he had no intention of discrediting him or of putting him in a bad light.

The error is deeply regretted.

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