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Journalist's murder sparks political uproar in Malta

The Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, photograped in 2011 before the Libyan embassy in Malta REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

The murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has left the island in shock and triggered political turmoil. Admitting that she was his "biggest adversary", Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised bring the killers to justice, but the opposition has demanded Muscat to step down.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, nicknamed by the Politico website a "one-woman WikiLeaks", was involved in exposing local politicians named in the Panama Papers. On her blog, Running Commentary – Daphne Curuana Galizia Notebook, she attacked politicians of all persuasions.

In her latest posting, she attacked former opposition leader Simon Busetti and the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Keith Schembri, under the headline “That crook Schembri was in court today, pleading that he is not a crook.”

It was posted at 2:35pm on Monday, less than half an hour before she was killed in a massive car bomb explosion.

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“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it, like many strong journalists,” writes Caruana Galizia’s son Matthew, also an investigative reporter, on Facebook.

“She was also targeted because she was the only person doing so. This is what happens when the institutions of the state are incapacitated: the last person left standing is often a journalist, which makes her the first person left dead.”

Colleagues were devastated as well.

“It is just monstrous that she ended up that way," says Raphael Vassalo, a journalist for Malta Today who has known Curuana Galizia since childhood. "But I was also absolutely appalled by the scale of the murder. It was really designed to make a very powerful statement”.

It was aimed at “undermining the system and an attack on law and order and freedom of expression”, he believes.

Not safe haven

Over the last month she had been publishing detailed allegations of corruption in Muscat's inner circle, some based on the Panama Papers data leak.

After the murder, Maltese suddenly seem to realise their island was not the safe country they assumed they lived in.

“Probably until last Monday, we thought that we lived in a normal European country,” says Karl Gouder, a member of parliament for the opposition Nationalist Party, “where if you don’t agree with a journalist, you go to court if necessary and file libel charges and then the court decides.

“We never thought that the country would go down to the dogs where it went last Monday. These things happen in a states that are not European and not democratic and I don’t think any Maltese ever thought that this would happen."

The opposition has attacked Muscat's government for failing to provide security for the controversial journalist.

According to Malta Today, the last fixed-point police security at her home was terminated on 3 October 2010.

Quoting a police spokesperson, the paper says that Caruana Galizia “did not file any police reports related to threats to her safety in the last six months”.

Muscat's statement that she never asked for protection brought an angry reaction from the opposition.

“With protection it is not a matter of wanting or not wanting. If you need protection, then the state should just provide for protection,” says Gouder.

At this moment, no suspects in the murder have been detained.

Some other investigative journalists are sceptical that they ever will be.

“What is all this for? Sometimes I ask it myself,” says Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, a Bulgarian investigative journalist who lost her job at the Trud newspaper after she exposed her government's involvement with illegal arms transfers to Syria.

“What’s the price? In this case the price is the life of the Maltese journalist. I really hope that the truth will come out and this case will not be blacked out. But I’m afraid that this murder will not be investigated impartially, because obviously there are many [who have an] interest in her killing."