ROME – This week, Malta’s bishops have urged the public to stay calm and avoid violence as turmoil mounts following shocking revelations about top government officials that were made in the investigation into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia two years ago.
In a joint statement, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Bishop Mario Grech urged citizens to face the turbulence the country is undergoing “with a calm sense of purpose” and a desire “to promote truth and justice with charity and respect for one another.”
“As in every society, disagreement is inevitable. However, we are always called to express our legitimate opinions with respect for one another and with respect for the truth, without falling into the trap of hatred, lies and violence,” they said, asking that all citizens “seek the common good in a spirit of true loyalty to the principles of the Constitution of the Republic of Malta.”
The statement comes as Malta faces increased pressure from the European Union over unrest following revelations that top government officials were allegedly involved in Caruana Galizia’s death, prompting Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to announce his resignation, effective in January.
Famous for her in-depth stories exposing government corruption, Caruana Galizia was killed in October 2017 after a rental car she was driving exploded as she was leaving her home in Bidnija. Often threatened for her work, she was best known for her investigation of corruption among Malta’s political figures.
Shortly before her death, Caruana Galizia suggested in a blog post that Muscat and his wife had used offshore bank accounts to hide payments from Azerbaijan’s ruling family, which triggered early elections in Malta.
Muscat’s Labour Party still came out victorious, however, but earlier this month he announced that he would be stepping down after allegations surfaced that he was involved in the plot for Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Muscat has been part of the Labour Party since 2008 and was named Malta’s Prime Minister in 2013 after having served for several years as a member of European Parliament.
His resignation was largely prompted by mounting pressure after his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, was accused by a prominent businessman of complicity in Caruana Galizia’s murder.
The businessman, Maltese tycoon Yorgen Fenech, has been charged on multiple counts in connection with the murder and has plead not guilty. Fenech allegedly told courts that he regularly received details about the investigation from Schembri as well as advice on what to say during interrogations, prompting his resignation and calls for Muscat to step down.
Protests exploded in the immediate aftermath of the revelations last month, and they have continued to gain steam, with demonstrations happening on an almost daily basis. At times the protests have turned violent, with participants throwing eggs and coins at government buildings in the capital Valletta.
Muscat finally announced his resignation after protestors blockaded the Maltese Parliament during a mass demonstration.
On Thursday the European Parliament sent a letter to E.U. leaders urging them to push for Muscat’s immediate resignation.
Pope Francis received Muscat in Rome last Saturday. The audience had reportedly been on the pope’s schedule for several months; however, it was “downgraded” from a public audience to a private visit due to the controversy.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Muscat insisted that the welfare of Malta must come before his own interests, and that a new head of the country’s Labour Party would be announced Jan. 12, 2020.
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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