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Two years ago a bomb killed a journalist in Malta. Now justice for her murder seems as far away as ever

Flowers, photographs, candles, and messages demanding “Who killed Daphne?” line Malta’s Great Siege Monument, in tribute to journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered two years ago.

Each day, more are laid carefully at the foot of the memorial in the Maltese capital, Valletta. And each night — or sometimes within hours — they are removed on the orders of Maltese authorities, according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Investigative reporter Caruana Galizia, 53, died in October 2017 when a bomb fixed to her car was detonated just down the road from her home, as she drove to the bank. Her family say she was “assassinated” because of her work uncovering alleged corruption in the Maltese government.

Caruana Galizia’s supporters estimate that the makeshift memorial has been torn down and thrown away more than 500 times. But the destruction does not deter her supporters.

In May this year, white flowers planted to spell out the word “JUSTICE” were pulled out of the flowerbed at the foot of the monument, opposite Valetta’s law courts, according to the Times of Malta.

CNN has repeatedly tried to contact Malta’s Ministry of Justice for comment about the disposal of tributes to Caruana Galizia, but has not received a response.

Ann Demarco, an activist with Occupy Justice, a group led by women seeking answers to Caruana Galizia’s killing, goes to lay fresh tributes each morning on her way to work. Sometimes, she says, her offerings are gone by the time she has drunk her morning coffee.

Demarco explains that her simple act of remembrance — part of Occupy Justice’s larger efforts — is important because it shows that she and her colleagues will not give in.

“For one thing, we are reminding the government every day that we haven’t gone away,” she told CNN. “Malta is not used to a climate of protest — usually when something happens, people are up in arms for maybe a day… With Daphne, it kept going. So, the memorial — or protest — is a sign that we’re not going anywhere.”

Rebecca Vincent, UK bureau director of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), is campaigning with Daphne’s family for justice, and says it is “disheartening” that two years on, there has been no resolution in the case.

She visits the memorial whenever she goes to Malta, and says she was harassed — called a “bitch” by a group of old men nearby — while adding her own tribute.

She says local activists receive worse treatment and have even been physically attacked.

Speaking of the memorial clearances, Vincent told CNN: “It is just one of many things… which is intended to undermine and attack her memory and her life’s work. And to pressure her family as well. So, it’s really concerning.

“The memorial has become a microcosm for the whole fight for justice,” she said. “It’s become, in a way, the frontier for this battle.”

Powerful enemies

Caruana Galizia’s work — including her research into Maltese citizens implicated in the Panama Papers — had made her some very powerful enemies. The Panama Papers are the name for the leak of millions of files from the database of an offshore firm called Mossack Fonseca in 2016.

The journalist had suffered intimidation over the years — her dog’s throat was cut, and in 2006 her house was set on fire as the family slept, tires piled against the back door to prevent them escaping.

Shortly before her death, in what was to be the final entry on her blog Running Commentary, she wrote: “There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

Two years on from her murder — despite the efforts of her family and campaigners — justice seems a long way off.

In July, three men — Vincent Muscat and brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio — were formally charged with murder in connection with the incident. All three suspects pleaded not guilty during pre-trial proceedings. It may be more than a year before they face trial. And those who ordered the killing remain at large.

Muscat’s lawyer, Arthur Azzopardi, said previously that his client has cooperated with police. Dutch lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur on Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta, told CNN that if Muscat’s evidence is crucial to the case, the Maltese government must use it before the trail goes cold.

Muscat’s lawyer, Azzopardi, told CNN he could not give further comment as the case is ongoing. CNN has attempted to contact an attorney for the Degiorgios.

Omtzigt told CNN that a public, independent inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing, announced by the Maltese government in September, is neither public nor independent. “I find it difficult to be confident, but I will never give up hope,” he said.

“If our expectations are not met by the end of this month, I will carry on my work — my mandate continues until the end of next June. At some point, however, the Assembly may have to intensify its scrutiny of Malta,” he added.

CNN has contacted Maltese government officials by email and telephone regarding Omtzigt’s comments.

The fight to see those responsible for her killing is not the only legal nightmare facing Caruana Galizia’s family — they are also attempting to overturn a string of defamation lawsuits, which have passed on posthumously to them under Maltese law.

At the time of her death, Caruana Galizia had 47 libel cases pending against her, five of which were for criminal defamation, Caruana Galizia’s sister, Corinne Vella, told CNN.

There are still 27 active cases against the family, said Vella, including one brought by Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his wife, Michelle Muscat, over Daphne’s claims that Michelle received $1 million from Azerbaijan’s ruling family — into an offshore account in Panama under the name of a company called Egrant. The couple have denied the allegations.

Muscat said he would drop his case if Caruana Galizia’s heirs publicly accepted the findings of the Egrant Inquiry, which exonerated him and his wife from involvement in the scandal. But the full report has not been released publicly.

Muscat’s letter was in response to Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, urging the PM to withdraw these libel suits in September. John Sweeney, a former BBC investigative journalist and co-author of “Murder on the Malta Express,” about Caruana Galizia’s death, said corruption in Malta is on a different scale to the rest of Europe.

“I can’t imagine the prime minister suing a dead person in any other European Union state,” he told CNN. “I can’t imagine a murdered journalist having a shrine and that shrine being desecrated by the government’s workmen every night.”

Two years on, questions remain over who ordered Caruana Galizia’s murder, but as her daily memorial shows, people have not forgotten her or the corruption she fought to expose. Ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of her death will take place in Brussels, London, and Berlin, as well as Valletta.

“Daphne’s work transcends her murder,” added Vella. “Her killers thought they would silence her, but they’ve amplified her voice.

“Her example has inspired others to step up and speak out and she has inspired countless others. That, too, is part of her legacy. I wish she were here to see what an inspiration she has become.”

This story has been corrected to clarify Pieter Omtzigt’s comments on the suspect Vincent Muscat’s cooperation with police.

CNN