Two days before the fourth anniversary of the contract killing of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, a new prize named in her honour and created by the European Parliament has been awarded to a group of journalists who revealed the illegal surveillance scandal known as the Pegasus Project.
The leading organisation behind the project was the Paris-based journalism NGO Forbidden Stories, founded in the immediate aftermath of Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Two of her sons were in the audience of the EP’s press room for the ceremony. The founder of Forbidden Stories, Laurent Richard, credited one of them with inspiring the group’s work in his acceptance speech: “Four years ago, your mother was killed, Matthew, and you had told me that you wanted to continue with her work.”
Forbidden Stories’ first project was to publish Caruana Galizia’s investigative work globally. “Even if you kill the messenger, you can never kill the message. That is why we are here today,” Richard added.
The winner was chosen by an independent jury composed of representatives of the press and of civil society from all 27 European Member States.
In his opening remarks, Parliament President David Sassoli, a journalist himself for many years before he entered politics, said, “Daphne Caruana Galizia’s death has brought about a resurgence of investigative journalism by colleagues committed to continuing her work”.
“Recent examples, such as the Pandora Papers, have demonstrated the unique power of journalism that is daring and adamant, particularly when carried out in the context of an international consortium”.
“By creating transparency, investigative journalism allows voters to make informed decisions. Protecting and supporting journalists is in the vital interest of democratic societies” European Parliament President David Sassoli
Sassoli also stressed that democracies cannot afford to neglect a free and independent media: “By creating transparency, investigative journalism allows voters to make informed decisions. Protecting and supporting journalists is in the vital interest of democratic societies”.
He concluded that, “we have to find effective ways to sanction those who restrict media freedom and properly punish those who threaten or attack journalists. “Above all”, he added, “we have to make sure that the rule of law is not undermined in our Member States, since this is the backbone of independent journalism.”
A notion very much shared by Vice-President Othmar Karas, responsible for the Parliament’s relations with the press, who was also in attendance. In a statement after the event, he said: “If journalists cannot work properly and freely and even have to fear for their lives, there is no civilisation. In these instances, there is no rule of law and democracy is in danger”. Karas concluded that “we have to prevent these situations under all circumstances”.
His colleague David Casa, the Maltese deputy and Quaestor who had been instrumental in setting up Parliament’s new journalism award, described the prize’s message in the same press statement as twofold: “The first message is addressed to the Maltese: The European Parliament is on your side, and it wants justice for all those cases revealed by Daphne”.
“The second message is addressed to all journalists across the world: the European Parliament values journalism which is indispensable for our democracies”.
Casa promised that Parliament, “will stand with journalists, champion media freedom and combat the culture of impunity that allows for journalists to be targeted by those they expose”.
“If journalists cannot work properly and freely and even have to fear for their lives, there is no civilisation. In these instances, there is no rule of law and democracy is in danger” European Parliament Vice-President Othmar Karas
The prize-winning project revealed in the summer that the eponymous, highly advanced spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group - with the official purpose of fighting organised crime and terrorism - had been used to target around 50,000 individuals across 50 countries via their mobile phones.
While known criminals are among them, the investigation, receiving technical support from Amnesty International, found that the numbers on the list included many politicians, lawyers, activists and journalists, as well as two EU leaders: European Council President Charles Michel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
A particularly long list of leading opposition voices has been identified for Hungary. The Hungarian government has so far neither denied nor confirmed their use of the Pegasus spyware.
Exhaustive government surveillance with Pegasus seems to have been installed in India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All three governments have denied the charge.
The Greens/EFA Group's vice-chair Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield commented in a tweet after having congratulated the prize winners, “A key moment to recall that, three months after the [Pegasus Project] revelations, neither transparency nor accountability have been brought to the public debate”.
Also on Thursday, following a joint vote by members on the Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Development (DEVE) committees the three candidates shortlisted for Parliament’s 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought were announced: A group of Afghan women fighting for equality and human rights in their country, former interim president of Bolivia Jeanine Áñez, and Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.
The EP’s Conference of Presidents will select the final laureate next Wednesday in Strasbourg.