Jason Micallef: PEN International ‘profoundly disturbed’ over ‘total lack of accountability’
PEN International Executive Director Carles Torner has published an Open Letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, expressing the renowned organisation’s concerns over the recent promotion of V18 chairman Jason Micallef.
Culture Minister Owen Bonnici said on Thursday that Micallef will chair what will be be known as the Valletta Cultural Agency once Valletta’s European Capital of Culture comes to an end on 15 December.
Torner said PEN International was “profoundly disturbed” over “what appears to be a total lack of accountability from the Maltese authorities with regard to the extremely serious allegations made by PEN International and a wide range of leading international cultural actors” over Micallef’s repeated disparaging remarks about assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
PEN International called on the Prime Minister “to reconsider this promotion which sends a strong signal that the Maltese authorities are failing to uphold their obligations to protect freedom of expression and European values”. The letter’s full text follows: “I write to you on behalf of PEN International to express our profound dismay at the promotion of Jason Micallef, Chair of Valletta 2018, to Chair the Valletta Cultural Agency.
“During our meeting with you on 15 October 2018, PEN International raised our profound concerns about the vilification campaigns by authorities, including by members of the Office of the Prime Minister and the chair of Valletta 2018, against assassinated journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia. We received assurances from you that the allegations would be seriously considered. However, rather than censuring Jason Micallef, we have now learned that the Maltese authorities have promoted him to oversee a key cultural agency. We are profoundly disturbed by what appears to be a total lack of accountability from the Maltese authorities with regard to the extremely serious allegations made by PEN International and a wide range of leading international cultural actors. We call on you to reconsider this promotion which sends a strong signal that the Maltese authorities are failing to uphold their obligations to protect freedom of expression and European values.”
On 16 April 2018, the six-month anniversary of the assassination of Ms Caruana Galizia, PEN International and its membership, led by Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman and Elif Shafak, wrote an open letter to the European Commission to protest against the actions of Jason Micallef and to call for his resignation. Since the assassination, Micallef had repeatedly and publicly attacked and ridiculed Ms Caruana Galizia on social media, ordered the removal of banners calling for justice for her death and called for her temporary memorial to be cleared. PEN International has stressed that such actions were far from appropriate behaviour for an official designated to represent the European Capital of Culture and, in fact, serves to further the interests of those trying to prevent an effective and impartial investigation into Caruana Galizia’s death. In his response to PEN’s letter, European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans stated that anyone representing a European Capital of Culture must “express him or herself in a manner that reflects the common values on which the EU is based”, such as ‘ democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law’. He went on to say: “any statements made in this context that go against this spirit are highly regrettable and should, in the Commission’s view, be avoided.” Following PEN’s open letter, 72 Members of the European Parliament and over 100 local artists followed suit in calling for the resignation of Jason Micallef. Leeuwarden, the twin European Capital of Culture, severed all ties with Valletta 2018. The chairman of the jury that selected Valletta as Malta’s European Capital of Culture, Manfred Gaulhofer, criticised both Micallef and Artistic Director Mario Philip Azzopardi, saying that their behaviour is “absolutely incompatible with their function as representatives of Valletta as the European Capital of Culture 2018.” Torner adds: “During our meeting with you on 15 October 2018, PEN International once again raised our profound concerns about the vilification campaigns by authorities, including by members of the Office of the Prime Minister and the chair of Valletta 2018, against Caruana Galizia, both before and after her death. You stated, Prime Minister, on the record, that you had held previous serious conversations with Jason Micallef about his statements relating to Daphne Caruana Galizia, with which you stated you did not agree. You went on to say that you understood PEN’s protest and the outcry generated by Micallef’s behaviour, that you would study the situation and that you would consider calling for his resignation as Chair of Valletta 2018. “We profoundly object to the decision to promote Jason Micallef to lead a permanent leading cultural agency in Malta. This decision appears completely at odds with the concerns you expressed during our meeting with you in October this year. We remind you of Malta’s obligations as a European Member State to uphold European values of democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law and urge you to reconsider this appointment.”