The burn­ing of the witch

She had long been at­tacked as ‘the witch of Bid­nija’, the ‘Queen of Bile’, #GALIZIABARRA! and threat­ened with death. At the end, they did to her what has been done to witches over the cen­turies – death by burn­ing. The squares of Md­ina and Vit­to­riosa can t

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

And for be­ing a woman. She was killed next to her house in that beau­ti­ful spot that is the Bid­nija val­ley. Over the hill at Kun­ciz­zjoni there is a small mon­u­ment to a woman who had been burned in a car boot for be­friend­ing the girl­friend of some tough guy. Daphne had writ­ten on this case. On the other side, at Zeb­biegh, an equally small mon­u­ment tes­ti­fies to a girl killed be­cause she wanted to end a re­la­tion­ship.

But those who killed her, and those who or­dered the killing, made one cru­cial mis­cal­cu­la­tion. They cre­ated a mar­tyr, and in so do­ing they made Daphne im­mor­tal, an icon for free­dom of ex­pres­sion all over the free world. It all goes to show, in my opin­ion, the po­lit­i­cal in­com­pe­tence of those be­hind this killing: politi­cians know that the last thing they want is to make a mar­tyr of their vic­tim.

A mar­tyr be­comes an in­stant saint. His or her blem­ishes dis­ap­pear. The mar­tyr be­comes a uni­ver­sal role model. Make a mar­tyr and hun­dreds, thou­sands, step up to take the mar­tyr’s place.

This is why I firmly be­lieve that the po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Malta had noth­ing to do with this killing. They knew this was the one thing they should avoid.

Hav­ing said that, there may still be a Mal­tese el­e­ment to the killing. In re­cent times, bump­ing off an ad­ver­sary by means of a car bomb has be­come the pre­ferred way of set­tling dis­putes among Mal­tese crim­i­nals. This was the first time that a con­tract had tar­geted some­one out­side the crim­i­nal cir­cles.

Daphne’s life, and death, fol­lowed a tra­jec­tory of its own. I can trace this by rec­ol­lect­ing my as­so­ci­a­tion and friend­ship with her over the years.

I first came in con­tact with her when she was as­so­ci­ate edi­tor at Stan­dard Pub­li­ca­tions and I be­gan my first ten­ta­tive at- tempts at writ­ing ar­ti­cles in English for the Sun­day paper. That was in 1993. Then she left and moved to The Times.

On a hot Satur­day in 1995, when I was act­ing edi­tor, I was ap­proached by a mem­ber of staff who had ear­lier been the rea­son for her leav­ing Stan­dard Pub­li­ca­tions, and was told she was in trou­ble at The Times be­cause they did not want to pub­lish her ar­ti­cle at­tack­ing Guido de Marco. I of­fered her space on The Malta In­de­pen­dent and up to last Sun­day she de­liv­ered an ar­ti­cle ev­ery week.

Two days be­fore that, Daphne tes­ti­fied in court that she was in­formed that the head of the armed forces had been or­dered to re­sign by then Prime Min­is­ter Ed­die Fenech Adami, but that Guido de Marco, deputy prime min­is­ter at the time, had given him le­gal ad­vice urg­ing him not to re­sign.

For that dis­puted ar­ti­cle, de Marco held a very long press con­fer­ence at the For­eign Min­istry (he was then act­ing PM) and his daugh­ter sued both me and Daphne, and won.

Thus be­gan a col­lab­o­ra­tion that ended last Mon­day. The sto­ries she broke with those ar­ti­cles will of­fer fu­ture his­to­ri­ans a unique in­sight into Malta at the turn of the cen­tury. Most were highly con­tro­ver­sial – the re­trieval of Al­fred Sant’s di­vorce pa­pers (which later led to the sack­ing of the TMI edi­tor), the ar­ti­cle mock­ing Dom Mintoff (for which he sued us both crim­i­nally and civilly, and lost), which led to her whoop­ing cries of cel­e­bra­tion when he died (mir­rored, as karma would have it, in a po­lice­man’s re­joic­ing when she was killed), the reve­la­tions re­gard­ing John Dalli, and count­less oth­ers.

In 2008 she moved to a higher level. She had long been ask­ing us for more space than just two ar­ti­cles a week and when that was not forth­com­ing, she be­gan her blog which in time beat all Mal­tese me­dia in read­er­ship and fol­low­ing. She first ex­peri- mented by writ­ing on a blog run by some­one else, then she took the plunge and set up Run­ning Com­men­tary, her blog. There she was com­pletely free; free from ed­i­to­rial over­sight. She did ev­ery­thing – she wrote the ar­ti­cles, mod­er­ated (and cor­rected) the com­ments, some­times adding her own com­ments. And mean­while, she con­tin­ued her day job of edit­ing two glossy and suc­cess­ful mag­a­zines. Those who fol­lowed her know that she some­times posted at 2am or even later. In re­cent months, she con­fessed to some­one that she had gone for nights with­out sleep.

With the Na­tion­al­ist Party los­ing the 2013 elec­tion and with Labour in power, she re­dou­bled her ef­fort. She was the one who broke the Panama Pa­pers story in Malta, im­pli­cat­ing a min­is­ter and the PM’s as­sis­tant. Then she claimed that a se­nior min­is­ter had vis­ited a brothel in Ger­many while on of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment busi­ness. That min­is­ter sued and got the court to is­sue a huge gar­nishee or­der freez­ing all her ac­counts. Ad­mir­ing sup­port­ers helped her over­come this. Then Egrant, which brought to­gether Az­eri money and the spouse of the Prime Min­is­ter in one al­le­ga­tion. It was this that spurred PM Mus­cat to hold an early elec­tion. He won, she lost.

Later she went on a cru­sade to stop Adrian Delia, debts and all, from be­com­ing leader of the Na­tion­al­ist Party. He won, she lost.

All this was mixed with gos­sip, mainly taken from Face­book posts of her ‘vic­tims’, de­ri­sion com­ing from an elit­ist point of view (what the Prime Min­is­ter mis­tak­enly claimed to be racism), claims that the Mal­tese do not speak English cor­rectly (or even Mal­tese), and so on.

This was a unique mix held to­gether by the per­son­al­ity of one per­son. It was an im­pos­si­ble task. She was in ef­fect writ­ing a com­plete news­pa­per ev­ery sin­gle day all on her own. There was a RAI 3 dis­cus­sion this week on this spe­cific point – the ad­van­tages/dis­ad­van­tages of a sin­gle per­son ver­sus a struc­tured or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In re­cent weeks, those who fol­lowed her writ­ings closely and those who had con­tact with her no­ticed she was slow­ing down (maybe the moun­tain of li­bel cases had some­thing to do with this) and a generic des­per­a­tion crept into her writ­ings, as mir­rored in her last, prophetic, words ‘There is cor­rup­tion ev­ery­where – the sit­u­a­tion is des­per­ate’.

But maybe too she had taken on what she could not chew. In­ter­na­tional com­ment is now wak­ing up to the fact that Malta has be­come a cross­roads for in­ter­na­tional crime – from Az­eri money laun­der­ing, to Si­cil­ian mafia in­ter­act­ing with Libyan war­lords, to Mal­tese in­volve­ment in slough­ing off Libyan oil on the black mar­ket, to drug run­ning on a vast scale. Maybe she was work­ing to dis­close some­thing along these lines when she was mur­dered.

What I called her tra­jec­tory can now be seen. She came to rely less and less on work­ing with and un­der oth­ers and more and more to do­ing it all by her­self. That made her all the more ex­posed to per­sonal risk and dan­ger.

It is clear she can­not be re­placed. There will be no one ready to un­der­take such a bur­den, let alone with the as­so­ci­ated risks. I can­not de­fend or jus­tify her more atro­cious posts or some com­ments she al­lowed. But as I said at the be­gin­ning, all that now pales when one con­sid­ers her enor­mous courage, her de­ter­mi­na­tion, and her in­sis­tence that law and or­der must pre­vail in Malta.

She is not just a mar­tyr but also, in her own way, a pa­triot. That such a per­son has been killed, and the man­ner in which she has been killed, sends a shock wave should make each one of us re­flect on what we are do­ing and how we are do­ing it.

Sit tibi terra levis, Daphne.

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