Scottish PEN calls for support and police protection for writer Robert Aquilina, who faces threats to his safety due to his public criticism of the Maltese authorities.April 26, 2023
We, the undersigned free expression organisations and journalists’ organisations, are deeply concerned about the safety of Robert Aquilina, a writer, activist, and the President of the NGO, Repubblika. We ask the Maltese authorities to urgently consider his application for police protection. We further call on them to prevent and protect against threats and violence against writers, journalists, and activists, including by publicly condemning all attacks and thoroughly investigating all cases.
On 29 August 2021, Robert Aquilina sought police protection after he had been warned to ‘be careful’ by a politician due to his criticism of the Maltese authorities. A few days earlier, the website of Repubblika was amongst 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 on 16 October 2017. At the time, our organisations condemned the sustained attack against the journalists and activists who had been reporting on the murder of Caruana Galizia. These fake emails and websites were clearly intended to intimidate and harass those who were fighting for full justice for Caruana Galizia and continued to investigate the corruption she exposed.
PEN International and Scottish PEN wrote to Malta’s Police Commissioner in July 2022, after Robert Aquilina had most of his police protection removed. Subsequent correspondence and a meeting between Aquilina, PEN Malta and high-ranking police representatives on 20 April 2023 revealed that Aquilina’s safety was no longer regarded as being at significant risk, despite ongoing threats. Various court judgements have found individuals guilty of having threatened him. In one instance, an individual has 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 Aquilina. Another individual stated under oath that he had personally heard a group of individuals speaking next to Parliament in a way that indicates that they would harm Aquilina. A police officer threatened his safety then resigned from the force. Vilification of Aquilina on media platforms, who is routinely branded a ‘traitor’, and online harassment continues unabated.
The Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia urges 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. 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.
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Index on Censorship
Wales PEN Cymru