The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Expression: The law provides that anyone using “defamatory, insulting, or disparaging words, acts or gestures” in contempt of the country’s president, or attempting to “censure or disrespectfully mention or represent” the president by words, signs, visible representations, or other means not provided for in the law, may be punished by imprisonment for one to three months or to a fine. Prosecution under the law was rare, but a French citizen was given a suspended sentence for an offense in 2015. It is also a criminal offense to offend public morality, propriety, or decency. The law also criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months.
Violence and Harassment: On October 16, unknown individuals killed investigative journalist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia in a car bombing near her home. Caruana Galizia had exposed major government corruption, including allegations involving the prime minister and other senior government officials (see section 4, Corruption). Her writing targeted a wide range of individuals, including members of each political party, business leaders, judges, and other prominent individuals. According to the media, Caruana Galizia filed a report with police in early October alleging she had received death threats. At the time of her death, Caruana Galizia faced at least 40 libel suits because of her reports. Family members held her funeral on November 3 and declined to invite the president or other political leaders.
Libel/Slander Laws: In some instances government ministers, other public officials, and political figures brought complaints under civil libel laws to respond to media reports alleging corruption and other misdeeds and asked the courts to freeze journalists’ assets to cover damages being sought until the courts determined the outcome of the case.
In February, Minister of the Economy Chris Cardona sued journalist/blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, after she had alleged that the minister visited a brothel during an official visit to Germany. Cardona sued for 40,000 euros ($48,000) in damages and asked the court to freeze the assets in the journalist’s bank account pending a trial. The court upheld Cardona’s request. Caruana Galizia’s family has asked the court to continue with the proceedings, despite the journalist’s death.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
According to Eurostat in 2016, approximately 82 percent of households had access to the internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.