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19.02.2019

Slovakia: still no justice for Ján and Martina

by Jane Whyatt

Shock waves shook Europe a year ago when Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were shot dead at their new home near Bratislava. It had all the signs of a mafia contract killing. And it triggered great political upheaval.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators poured onto the streets. They demanded justice for the murdered journalist and an end to the EU fraud, corruption and organised crime he had been investigating. Now Slovakia has a new prime minister, new culture and interior ministers, and a new police chief. Four suspects have been charged in connection with the murders of Ján and Martina.

It is alleged that the gang were paid 70,000 euros to carry out the killings. Yet who paid them? And why?

Many questions remain unanswered despite the bravery of fellow investigative journalists, who this week publish the sequels to the stories that Ján Kuciak was researching for the news portal Aktuality.sk. He was collaborating with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). OCCRP is releasing the investigative reports in a three-part series.

Editor Drew Sullivan said: "Jan’s death affected us deeply and we know of no better way to honour his legacy than to continue his work."

Along with OCCRP, the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IPRI), Investigace.cz in the Czech Republic, and the new investigative journalism centre named after Ján Kuciak, cross-border teams of journalists are working to prove that, in Sullivan’s words:

"Those who would kill journalists will find they will never stop a story by murder."

Fallout from the murders

Who’s been charged in connection with the murders of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová?

Alena Zsuzsova: alleged to have been paid to organise the murder

Zoltan A.: described by police as "the go-between"

Tomas S.: "fired the shots"

Miroslav M: "the driver of the car"

(Source: SME, 4.10.2018)


Who’s resigned in Slovakia because of the murders of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová?

Culture Minister Marek Maďarič, February 2018

Chief State Adviser Mária Trošková, February 2018

Chair of Slovakia Security Council Viliam Jasaň, February 2018

Prime Minister Robert Fico, March 2018

Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kaliñák, March 2018

Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská, March 2018

Police Chief Tibor Gaspar, end of May 2018

Deputy Chief Prosecutor Rene Vanek, January 2019


More: "Where do the Ján Kuciak murder investigations stand?"

This courageous attitude is shared by Kuciak’s editor and friend Peter Bárdy at Aktuality.sk. The editorial team knew the risks. Kuciak himself had reported to police that he was receiving threats from a local businessman, Marián Kočner.

On his Facebook page, Kuciak complained that he had not received a response 44 days after reporting the intimidation. After his death, Bárdy decided to publish a recording of a threatening phone call from Kočner. And Bardy insists that nothing - not even two murders - will silence the investigations which continued only a few days afer the deaths were discovered.

"It was necessary. Aktuality.sk has been working for several years on investigating these topics. It is an essential part of our work. Ján’s murder has not changed anything in this respect. It has deepened our belief that we are doing the right thing and increasing our determination to continue."

In addition to the work of his former colleagues, the name of Ján Kuciak is also now the title of a new centre for investigative journalism. Ján’s father Jozef is on the board of the new centre. It is funded by grants and donations, with a maximum permitted donation of 2,000 euros. The aim is to keep the centre free from any possibility of financial or politicial pressure.

Arpád Soltész, editor at the Jan Kuciák Centre, told ECPMF:

"The death of Jan and Martina increased the interest and trust of the society toward the media. At the same time attacks of politicians towards the regular media become more intense. The coalition of the ruling parties is preparing changes to the press legislation and former prime minister Fico has started to verbally attack journalists, again. These create a social environment where the part of an already polarised society, that rejects liberal democracy, may consider attacks on journalists as legitimate."

The proposed "right of reply" to the Slovak Press Law is already controversial, and events around the anniversary of Kuciak’s death will highlight the dangers it poses to press freedom.

His legacy lives on through another new initative: the investigative journalism training programme created and funded by the European Parliament. Groups of MEPs and also the Justice Commissioner Vera Jourová have travelled to Slovakia in top-level delegations since the murders. They met politicians, police and prosecutors and also groups of farmers who allege corruption and interference from the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta mafia in land grabs and EU subsidies.

In the European Parliament Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) on 19. February, MEPs passed a 16-page resolution strongly condemning the Slovakian authorities’ attitude to the safety of journalists and their right to be respected, interference in the independence of the public service broadcaster RTVS, and the fact that nine out of 11 recommendations from the EU’s fraud investigator OLAF have been ignored between 2010 and 2017.

The resolution draws parallels with the case of reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was also investigating corruption when she was assassinated with a car bomb in Malta in 2017.

NoImpunity banner 21. February 2019 marks one year since the brutal murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, and justice has not yet been served.

Slovakia’s leading independent national newspaper editor, Beata Balogova, is a board member of the International Press Institute (IPI). She told ECPMF of her concerns about politicial meddling in the ongoing investigation to find out who ordered the murders of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová:

"Politicians should refrain from any administrative or other interventions into the investigation. The case should remain in the hands of the original investigation team. We also expect that the police will seriously investigate the monitoring and screening of journalists by former intelligence service agent Peter Tóth for Kočner and possibly other power groups. The fact that a group of people were monitoring and following journalists is a serious warning sign."

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom’s Legal Advisor Flutura Kusari led ECPMF's fact-finding missions in Malta and Slovakia. She has talked to journalists and law enforcement officers and met the family of the murdered journalist.

Kusari comments:

"We are not satisfied that the arrests and charges made so far are an adequate response to these murders. We are exploring ways to investigate state responsability in preventing the assasination of Kuciak. And we urge the Slovak Parliament to ensure the safety of journalists and to uphold international standards in the drafting of their new media laws."

When Kusari interviewed Ján Kuciak’s parents, his father Jozef told ECPMF:

"Journalists should not be afraid to write. Maybe sometimes it is painful for them but if there would be no pressure coming from journalists there would be no proper investigation into the murder. As long as there is pressure from journalists, citizens and international organisations, there is hope."

That pressure continues with demonstrations being held on 21. February in the Slovak capital Bratislava as well as more than 20 other towns and cities across the country. Our own ECPMF vigils are in Berlin and Leipzig, and online through social media.

Commemorative gatherings are taking place also in Brussels, Helsinki, Vienna, and The Hague, as the media freedom community unites to demand justice for the murders of Jan and Martina.

AllForJan banner 21. February 2019 marks one year since the brutal murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, and justice has not yet been served.

For ordinary Slovakians too it is an important moment – not only of sadness but of anger and protest against the system that allowed them to be killed with impunity.

Across Slovakia, and as far away as Sheffield, an industrial town in northern England, people are taking to the streets on 21. February 2019. There, Slovakian small business owner Petra Black is determined to join her compatriots in remembering the murdered journalist. Although she has no personal connection to journalism, she told ECPMF:

"I needed to do something, anything, here in Sheffield, to show support to all good people living in Slovakia. To me it also means giving people organising demonstrations (Za slusne Slovensko, 'For a decent Slovakia') in Slovakia mental strength to continue by showing that there are people living abroad who care, even though our demonstration was very small in comparison. Doing something is always better than doing nothing." 

"Thank you for keeping their memory alive."