Maltese politicians filed civil suits against journalist because of an article in which she said they were in a brothel: This is the first time this has happened in Maltese legal history.
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On January 8 this year, deputy leader of the Labour party and Minister of Economy of Malta, Christian Cardona and member of the leadership of the party, Joseph Gerada, each filed two civil lawsuits against Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, because of alleged damages that were inflicted by her article published on the internet website www.daphnecaruanagalizia.com. In the article, she reported that both politicians were at a brothel in Velbert, Germany, during an official visit of the government of Malta to the German government.

In an official statement she sent us, Caruana Galizia said that she hasn’t yet been served with those suits and she doesn’t know the specific basis of the civil suit of the Minister for the Economy. However, last week both of them filed precautionary warrants on the journalists’ assets for the maximum libel damages in the amount of 47,460 euros. As a result of this, her bank accounts have been frozen to that amount, and will remain so until the case is concluded, which could last for years, the journalist said in her statement.

“The Minister for the Economy and his EU presidency policy officer now have an additional interest in prolonging the case as much as possible: not only are they lying (there is an eyewitness who saw them at the FKK Acapulco) but the longer they drag the case on without a verdict, the longer my bank accounts are frozen to any amount they decide they deserve as a precautionary measure”, said Caruana Gilazia.

Also, in the official statement she said that the behaviour of Christian Cardone and Joe Gerada clearly shows that they are anything but innocent. Adding that, instead of calling a press conference the day after her story was published, hid from the press, made excuses and said that they prefer to clear their name in court rather than do it now in the press.

Furthermore, she emphasised that the use of precautionary warrants isn’t unusual in commercial cases where companies and individuals sue each other for debts claimed, however, their use in libel suits is unheard of. The use of a precautionary warrants in a libel suit against a journalist means that the journalist is effectively made to pay a heavy penalty before the case even begins to be heard and years before the verdict is reached, Caruana Galizia stresses.

Referring to the implications of her case on journalism in general, she emphasised that the consequences are tremendously bad, because what the deputy leader of the Labour Party/Economy Minister and his policy officer have done in these cases can be done to any other journalist or editor who is currently facing or will face a libel suit.

We should not be surprised that journalism is in severe decline in Malta, that fewer people wish to be journalists, that journalists are afraid of doing their job properly, and that corrupt and abusive politicians are winning the game, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

In the meantime, some new events occurred regarding this case, as Daphne Caruana Galizia herself said for Fairpress:

People have donated more than 70,000 euros to a fund to help my legal battle and to make a deposit in the Court of Justice which will allow me to get a ruling to have my bank accounts released. Around 55,000 euros were collected through an impromptu crowd-funding campaign which last just 36 hours.

Also, she emphasised that the minister for the economy stated that he’ll file more libel suits against her because of the same story, and he will obtain a precautionary warrant for freezing another 11,850 euros of her assets.

His lawyer has said that there will be up to 10 more libel suits, bringing the total asset freeze inflicted on me to more than 150,000 euros. Right now, I am unable to use my bank account or bank cards, and I am relying on cash from members of my immediate family. If I were single and had no family, right now I would not even have access to money to buy food or petrol. That is how terrible the measure taken by the Economy Minister is.

Today (13.2.) my lawyers began the complicated legal process of applying to have the Court of Justice revoke the government minister’s freezing of my bank account and financial assets. I have no idea how long this will take or whether it will be successful. Until then, I have no access to my own money and have to live off the voluntary support of others to get by on a daily basis. The freezing of my bank accounts also means that I cannot pay my bills because I am unable to transfer money.

This is the first time this has happened in Maltese legal history, Caruana Galazi added.

We turned to the Minister for the Economy, Christian Cardoneu, for a comment; his ministry responded that we’ll receive his answer very soon, however, by the moment this article was published, we didn’t receice an answer.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), reported this case to the platform for the protection of journalists of the Council of Europe.

Although Malta occupies a relatively high position regarding media freedoms, Reporters Without Borders sees as the main problem of the country precisely the libel suits. In Malta, libel is punished by a fine or by imprisonment; in 2014 alone, 30 libel charges were recorded that were filed by lawyers and politicians.

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