Protection call for Maltese activist

Journalists’ organisations and free speech campaigners have called on the government in Malta to protect Robert Aquilina, pictured, a writer and activist and head of the Maltese NGO, Repubblika. In a statement, they called for the prevention of threats and violence against individuals, the public condemnation of all attacks and thorough investigation of all cases.

In August 2021, Mr Aquilina sought police protection after he was warned to ‘be careful’ by a politician due to his criticism of the Maltese authorities. A few days earlier, the website of Repubblika was among several news and civil society websites targeted in a coordinated spoof attack, following the indictment of businessman Yorgen Fenech for complicity in the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The statement said that fake emails and websites were clearly intended to intimidate and harass those fighting for full justice for Caruana Galizia, and who ere continuing to investigate the corruption she exposed.

The organisation PEN International, a worldwide association of writers, objected after Mr Aquilina had most of his police protection removed. Police in Malta later revealed that Mr Aquilina’s safety was no longer regarded as being at significant risk, despite ongoing threats. Various court judgements have found individuals guilty of having threatening him. In one instance, an individual is reported to have confessed to the police to following Aquilina, his wife, and their children into churches to get knowledge about the family, and then used that information to threaten Mr Aquilina.

The campaigners calling for protection said in their statement that vilification of the writer continued unabated, and that he was routinely branded a traitor and harassed online.

The Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia has urged the Maltese authorities to strengthen the protection of journalists and freedom of expression in Malta.

“Yet threats on journalists, writers, and activists by private individuals and political actors have continued to this day,” said the statement.

“As a public figure who speaks out against corruption, we are deeply concerned about Robert Aquilina’s welfare and that of his family. We also fear that as more corruption is uncovered by journalists, writers, and activists, with no police action taken to investigate and prosecute, the more those uncovering this corruption will be targeted by those who feel untouchable.

“We regard Robert Aquilina’s case as urgent and support his request for police protection. We ask for assurance that he and his family will be provided with full protection to safeguard them from all possible harm.”

  • Those calling for action to protect Mr Aquilina included Pen International, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, the European Federation of Journalists and Index on Censorship.