The journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia (54) died when the car she was driving exploded in Bidnija, a hamlet in north-central Malta on October 16th. Her final blog post, accusing the prime minister's chief of staff of corruption, had been published about a half-hour earlier.
Caruana Galizia ran a blog that was so popular and influential that it helped cause a political crisis when she accused prime minister Joseph Muscat's wife of benefiting from a secret Panamanian shell company that was used to deposit unexplained payments from Azerbaijan's ruling family. Muscat, who has denied wrongdoing, called a snap election in June, which his Labour Party won, giving him a second term.
In a statement on Monday, Muscat said he was shocked by the killing.
“I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country,” he said in a statement. “Everyone is aware that Ms Caruana Galizia was one of my harshest critics, politically and personally, as she was for others too. However, I can never use, in any way, this fact to justify, in any possible way, this barbaric act that goes against civilisation and all dignity.”
Muscat said the national police and security forces had been instructed “to take every step necessary in the investigations” to find whoever was responsible.
The leader of the opposition, Adrian Delia, warned of "the collapse of democracy and freedom of expression" and said on Twitter: "We shall not be silenced."
Another opposition lawmaker, Simon Busuttil, warned on Twitter: "The rule of law has collapsed. Our democracy is at stake."
Numerous officials condemned the killing. "If journalists are silenced, our freedom is lost," said Frans Timmermans, the first vice president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.
Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, said that Caruana Galizia had "sacrificed her life to seek out the truth".
Daphne Anne Vella was born in the resort town of Sliema on August 26th, 1964. Her father owned a business that imported and installed elevators, and her mother was a homemaker. She married Peter Caruana Galizia in 1985.
Caruana Galizia started her journalism career in 1987 as a columnist for the Sunday Times of Malta, but she was best known in recent years for her influential blog, Running Commentary, which frequently levelled accusations against powerful politicians and business executives. Her final blog post called the prime minister's chief of staff "a crook" and warned: "There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate."
The European edition of Politico, the online news site, recently included Caruana Galizia on a list of 28 people who are “shaping, shaking and stirring Europe”. The site called her a “blogging fury” and a “one-woman WikiLeaks” bent on exposing corruption and nepotism.
In February, she wrote that the country's economy minister and an ally had sued her for libel and managed to have her accounts frozen, after she accused them of visiting a brothel in Germany while on official government business.
The Times of Malta reported that she had filed a police report about two weeks ago about threats she had received.
Muscat called on the country to defend democracy and the rule of law.
“In this moment of profound sentiment, I am appealing for national unity,” he said in his statement. “This is not the time to discuss the conduct of a person. Everyone has the right to write and say what they want in this country, and those who feel wronged are entitled to protection by the courts and no other remedy.”
He vowed: “I will not rest until justice is delivered in this case, as our country deserves justice.”
Gerard Ryle, the director of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which organised the Panama Papers investigation, said it was "deeply concerned about freedom of the press in Malta" and urged the authorities to investigate the killing. One of the victim's three sons, Matthew Caruana Galizia, works for the organisation as a developer and data journalist.
Caruana Galizia, who is also survived by her husband, had been a staunch advocate for the European Union, which Malta joined in 2004. “Over my dead body will my children be stuck on these rocks,” she told Politico.
New York Times service