Attacks on the freedom of expression
A breakthrough in the Caruana Galizia case this week, when one of the three suspects changed his plea, admitted to all charges, and was sentenced with 15 years jail. It has been over 3 years now that the Maltese journalist and anti-corruption activist was murdered by a car bomb. “An attack on the free media” according to the European Commission. Besides the Daphne Caruana case, another, completely different free speech related discussion grabbed the headlines in Europe: the incarceration of Spanish rapper Pablo Hasél exposed “Spain's free speech faultlines” according to the Guardian.
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A breakthrough in the Caruana Galizia case this week, when one of the three suspects changed his plea, admitted to all charges, and was sentenced with 15 years jail. It has been over 3 years now that the Maltese journalist and anti-corruption activist was murdered by a car bomb. “An attack on the free media” according to the European Commission.
What happened, what was the explanation of the European media?
Vince Muscat, by the Maltese media also called ‘il-Koħħu’, finally pleaded guilty for placing the car bomb in 2017; after denying involvement in the murder over the past three years. “A turning point” according to the Times of Malta. The Guardian writes that Muscat is believed to have negotiated a more lenient sentence in exchange for information on the others involved: he named the brothers Agius and Vella as the men who supplied the bomb. Even though, revealed the Times of Malta, Muscat’s family was paid hush money to remain silent about the other suspects. The killing in 2017 came as a shock for Malta and the EU, dragged Malta’s Labour Party in a political scandal, and led to international calls on accountability. Caruana worked for years on corruption cases in the highest levels of the government, including the sale of European passports by the Maltese state.
So, there’s finally justice for Daphne Caruana?
Well, according to Maltese prime minister Robert Abela, “The events have edged us closer to establishing the truth in this dark chapter for the country and the Caruana Galizia family.” The family of Caruana, cited by the Guardian, also hailed the conviction, hoping “this step will begin to lead to full justice”. On Wednesday evening, the Times of Malta cited the words of Maltese police, who said that every person involved in the murder was caught. The other suspects however, still remain silent, including Yorgen Fenech, also in the spotlights of the French court and journalists, as emphasised by Le Monde, accused of using money gained in France to bribe officials in Malta.
The restriction to freedom of expression has also been an important topic in Spain isn’t it, where the imprisonment of rapper Pablo Hasél led to demonstrations and riots?
Yes indeed. The incarceration of Pablo Hasél, a rapper accused of glorifying terrorism, was followed by 8 consecutive days of protests all around Spain, but specially in Barcelona. “The rapper's jailing exposes Spain's free speech faultlines” was the title of the article written by Victor Lloret and Julius Purcell for The Guardian. According to the piece, this case “has also laid bare a deep divide in Spain over free speech and the country’s democratic values”. In the same line, Deutsche Welle points out that his arrest, based on anti-terrorism legislation passed in 2015 puts the Spanish freedom of Speech “To the test”. In le Monde, Sandrine Morel highlights how the sentence has made Hasel become the symbol of freedom of speech in Spain. BBC states that the article for which Hasel has been convicted “is framed so broadly that any so-called example of justifying a terrorist act can lead to a conviction”.
And it was not the first time that a Spanish musician or artist has been convicted for his words, was it?
Guy Hedgecoe wrote an article for Politico back in 2018, where he analysed the situation of Hasel, Valtonyc and Cesar Strawberry, three rappers that were condemned for glorifying terrorism. “A number of Western countries are prioritizing the fight against terror and hate crimes above personal freedoms'' he stated. According to Ana María Pascual, journalist of Público, around 150 artists, rappers, twitter users, journalists, and politicians have been condemned for opinion offenses in the country. The Government aims to reform the law so that these offences do no longer lead to prison sentences. Unidas Podemos, in the government coalition, proposes to abolish them for good.
Besides anger over these force restrictions to the freedom of thought, there was also an anniversary this week in Europe, wasn’t there ?
Yes, one that no one wants to celebrate. The Italians marked one year since the country experienced the first known Covid-19 death, and introduced its first lockdown measures. And the time to look back with relief is still to come, Italy has Europe’s second highest pandemic toll, and the number of cases is not decreasing, despite the strict measures currently put in place. “One year after the first one, we are talking again about the lockdown” wrote Corriere della Serra. “The country feels as a sober and serious place”, were the words of Italian PM Mario Draghi.
Erik Ruiz Martín & Nadine Vermeulen
Image : Ethan Doyle White, CC BY-SA 4.0