Press Freedom

Remembering Daphne and others: Journalist murders are a crime against humanity


by Özge Mumcu Aybars

Daughter of slain Turkish journalist Uğur Mumcu writes about her family’s search for justice, solidarity with the Caruana Galizia family and why attacks on journalist lives should be treated as crimes against humanity

After you experience a certain trauma in life and once you are out of the maelstrom that enwraps you like a spider web, the concepts that define your life become more simple, as if there is only good and evil from then on, something that can only be understood in moments of crisis. When you experience evil, life also reveals the good to you. After you deal with these traumas, you realize that life is not only about the “gray” parts of a system which relies on secret operations such as assassinations.

Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated when her Peugeot 108 was destroyed by a powerful explosive as she drove away from her home in Bidnija, Malta. The first person to witness the incident was her son Matthew, the eldest of her three sons, and who had worked closely with her as a journalist. Once, at a meeting we attended together, Matthew said: “When I first saw the burning car, I knew that our whole life had changed forever and that seeking justice would be the trauma which would define the rest of our lives.”

On her blog, which had 300,000 followers in a country of 450,000, Daphne shared reports on her investigations that Maltese authorities were making immense efforts to sweep under the rug.  Her journalism was about uncovering connections that were often covered through political and populist statements and PR campaigns conducted by authorities and revealing behind-the-scenes financial relations, that the involved parties vigorously attempted to keep secret.

Why was Daphne Caruana Galizia targeted?

Daphne Caruana Galizia was working on the sketchy financial ties of certain companies that concealed their financial flow through secret offshore methods on certain islands, especially focusing on the EU member state Malta which had turned into a tax haven.

Caruana Galizia was receiving threats prior to her assassination and she had become isolated from her colleagues.  She had turned into an “unfavorable” journalist in the eyes of her colleagues. She worked on the Malta links of the Panama Papers for over six months. She was investigating Azerbaijan’s money-laundering processes in Malta at the time of her murder.

A siblinghood of pain

Last year when I first saw the news on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder in the middle of the night on Twitter, I was taken back to 25 years ago. My father who was an investigative journalist had written his last piece and left home to visit an acquaintance who was in the hospital 25 years before. I had stayed at home, while my mother was in front of the apartment door when we heard a bomb explode. My father’s Renault 12 was turned upside down — I later saw on the news. (More poignantly, a court would eventually return the wreck of that car to our family many years later due to a legal requirement.)

I was eleven at the time and I didn’t have the house keys, which was why I couldn’t leave the house. I remember I sensed that something bad had happened to my father. I was able to sense as such because I remember witnessing many journalist murders in our country and knowing the threats my father received after his TV appearances. My father, who meticulously investigated the ties those in power had to certain religious cults, financing of terrorists as well as the companies and countries behind them; my father, who had written numerous articles on corruption, conducted extensive historical research, studied case files, labored through enormous commercial company registry databases and government’s Official Gazette to seek out changes and unusual patterns was thrown over a four-meter-high wall into the snows with a C4 bomb which detonated; creating a two-meter-deep hole in the ground. He left a family of three behind him, a mother and two children, who would spend their lives seeking justice for him. Millions of people attended his funeral, marching in a large procession, and the state officials gave their word to bring his case to justice. The only thing we have in our hands 25 years on is the name of an Islamic organization called “Tevhid Selam,” based in Iran. One of the ideological leaders of Tevhid Selam started working for a pro-government newspaper two years ago, yet we know nothing of the real person who ordered the assassination, or the one who planted that bomb in my father’s car. However, we as a family remain undaunted. Over the years, we worked to spread the culture of investigative journalism to new generations, not stopping our search for justice for a second.

The ideas that cost my father his life, became our main reference point. He used to say: “We are a forgetful nation. We forget everything that happens. We forget about the mothers and fathers whose daughters and sons were murdered. We leave them alone with their bloody tears.” In order not to forget, and in order to ensure that others also remember the victims, it is of primary importance to stand in solidarity with the victims and their families. Many families in similar situations have come together, leaving aside differences of opinions. And us, whose loved ones were victims of unsolved murders, have embraced our pain whilst dealing with our own legal proceedings.

In Early September, Meryem Göktepe, sister of journalist Metin Göktepe who was beaten to death at a police detention center; Dicle Anter, the son of journalist and writer Musa Anter who was murdered in a heinous ambush; Arat Dink, son of journalist Hrant Dink who was murdered in 2007; Maside Ocak, on behalf of Saturday Mothers — women who are looking for justice for sons and daughters disappeared by the state, and myself, as the daughter of Uğur Mumcu who was killed in a bomb explosion, came together with Matthew Caruana Galizia, Daphne’s son — all of us accepting themselves as part of a larger family. We had a discussion on how to approach a journalist murder in Malta, an “EU country”; based on our own personal experiences. It was difficult to confront my own pain which felt so fresh even after 25 years and to see that another family was going through the same ordeal. The rest of us seemed “experienced” compared to him; it is very difficult to explain in words how strange it felt. What a difficult “international pain of siblinghood” this is!

Daphne Caruana Galizia was 53 when she was murdered and my father was 51. She is survived by her husband and her three sons who will fight for her cause and to bring justice to her case for their whole lives. One year has passed since her murder and the Maltese Government, just like Turkey did for my father, swore on their honor to bring the case to light. Yet, no one is on trial except for three hitmen.

Murders of journalists are foremost societal traumas. The public’s right to information is suddenly taken away and these murders impose fear over society by telling everyone that “this is the end for those who seek the truth”. Journalists who seek out the truth are courageous and they are able to see one step further than society. This is so because a good journalist is a person who has put the information she/he gathered to good use and is able to speak to all segments of society. The murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia reveals the value of real newsmaking today, even though many seem indifferent to it. Knowledge is still very valuable and the publicization of knowledge is a sign that regional powers are still afraid of this influence.

Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, and more recently Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, were murdered in EU countries in 2017 and 2018. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi went into the İstanbul Saudi Consulate and was never heard from again — and this happened as I worked on this article.

Governments of Malta, Slovakia and Bulgaria must go after the perpetrators and the masterminds behind these murders. Just as Turkey must stop declaring journalists as being terrorists, and rather work on establishing justice.

Twenty-five years after my father’s murder, I do not believe in a “grayness,” which I define as the attempts to hurt -even accuse- the victims’ families and justice-seekers, but I believe in good -which I have seen has helped ward off attacks on families- and in evil, on which unjust attacks on truth-seekers feed.

These political assassinations are the result of a political-economic polarization. We should start searching by rewinding from this final picture and moving back towards the root of the problem. This political-economic polarization becomes manifest in political assassinations and most of the people stand on the righteous side. This pursuit of justice is very similar in most countries and that is why it is valuable. What we learn from these assassinations and the impunity we face is that we should be working to categorize attacks on journalists and journalism as crimes against humanity”. We should try to work on the notion of impunity in journalist assassinations and create changes in the European Union the European Parliament and the Council of Europe as well as in national legislation. I should underline that carrying the burden of these assassinations must not be left on the shoulders of the families only; these families must not be left in despair. These murders must be categorized as “crimes against humanity”.

And we should also remember what courage means; in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s words: “I promise to continue providing you with the oasis of sanity you want and need, as long as I am able to do so. And remember always that more and more people who are in the wrong do not become right by sheer force of numbers.”

Caruana Galizia, Kuciak and Marinova families and others whose loved ones were assassinated for journalist must never abandon their pursuit of justice. We should together be able to continue to uphold the sacredness of journalism on both national and international levels. I am ending my words with those of my father, which he wrote in 1975 and which today sound like poetry to me:

Those who killed us, hanged us, shot us in the middle of streets were at the age of our big brothers or fathers.
Either they lubricated the wheels of the system by partaking in its dirty businesses, or they stayed silent to all the things going on. We were killed under the very eyes of the people who could not spill out their hatred against anyone. In the name of law, in the name of democracy and in the name of western civilization, they strung us up at a dawn.
We died fearlessly my people, don’t forget us!
One day, roses will flourish on our graves my people, don’t forget us…One day our voices will echo in your ears my people, don’t forget us!
Now, we are like a bouquet of flowers dedicated to freedom.
We are always 
together my people,
Don’t forget us,
Don’t forget us…”