Ja­son Mi­callef: PEN In­ter­na­tional ‘pro­foundly dis­turbed’ over ‘to­tal lack of ac­count­abil­ity’

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - NEWS -

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.”

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