Murder of journalist who reported on corruption in Slovakia leads to calls for justice

Jan Kuciak, 27, had written about tax evasion among Slovak elites and received threats last year - but police did nothing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 5:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 9:43pm

A journalist investigating organised crime and corruption in the European Union country of Slovakia has been murdered, leading to an outcry from the EU itself. 

European and Slovak authorities believe that investigative reporter Jan Kuciak, who was shot to death Sunday in Slovakia, was killed because of his reporting on fraud in the central European country.

Kuciak, a 27-year-old investigative reporter, and his partner, Marina Kusnirova, were found dead in their apartment Sunday in Velka Maca, a village east of the capital of Bratislava.

Kuciak worked on reports about tax evasion among Slovak elites and had received threats last year from Marian Kocner, a businessman about whom Kuciak had written. The police did nothing.

“Justice must be served,” tweeted Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Commission, who is leading efforts by the EU executive to bolster civil rights and democratic standards in some of the bloc’s newer, ex-communist members. 

“Shocked by the murder of a journalist in the EU. No democracy can survive without the free press,” Timmermans added. 

 EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova, a Czech, said: “This murder puts freedom of press and democracy in danger.” 

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Kuciak’s German publisher, Ringier Axel Springer, condemned the “cruel assassination” of its journalist and Slovakia’s leaders promised to bring those responsible for the killings to justice.

“We are shocked and terrified by news that Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were probably victims of a vicious execution,” Ringier Axel Springer wrote in a statement to The Washington Post

“If this crime was an attempt to discourage an independent publisher such as Ringier Axel Springer not to pursue revelations about breaking the law, we will use this occasion for further strengthening of our journalistic responsibility.”

Kuciak is the second investigative reporter murdered in the European Union in recent months.

In October 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in her home country.

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Caruana Galizia had reported extensively on corruption among Maltese politicians and was credited with forcing the country’s prime minister to hold new elections last year after her reporting implicated leading members of the ruling Labour Party.

We will use this occasion for further strengthening of our journalistic responsibility
Ringier Axel Springer, publisher

The president of the European Union, Antonio Tajani, condemned the killings and called on local authorities to begin an investigation immediately.

Slovakia is generally considered a country where free expression is protected. Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom organisation, ranked Slovakia the 17th-freest country for journalists in its 2017 Press Freedom Index.

Despite the tolerant environment, some Slovak officials have expressed great displeasure with the work of investigative reporters such as Kuciak.

Among them are Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, who in 2016 referred to some domestic journalists as “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes” for covering alleged corruption in his administration.

Still, Fico condemned Kuciak’s killing and offered a reward of 1 million euros to find the culprits.

If the deaths of Kuciak and Kusnirova were in retaliation for Kuciak’s reporting, Fico said, it would constitute “an unprecedented attack on freedom of the press and democracy in Slovakia.”