Seven organisations call on the Slovenian government to stop harassing an investigative journalist

Slovenian investigative journalist and correspondent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Blaž Zaga has been targeted by a hate campaign fueled by the government on social networks and in the media since he sent an official Freedom of Information Request on the COVID-19 pandemic to the authorities in Ljubljana. In a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior Aleš Hojs on Monday 23 March, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), RSF and five other organisations voice their concern regarding the security of the journalist. In the absence of a response from the authorities, RSF and the other organisations have decided to make this correspondence public. The common letter calls on the Slovenian government to grant journalists their right to report on the sanitary crisis freely and independently, but also to guarantee them an open access to information.

To the attention of Mr. Aleš Hojs, Minister of the Interior Republic of Slovenia

 

23 March 2020

 

Re: Request of intervention for Slovenian journalist threatened with death by right-wing groups

 

Dear Mr. Minister,

I write to you regarding the situation of Mr. Blaž Zgaga, a Slovenian freelance investigative journalist based in Ljubljana.

Mr. Zgaga has received death threats following a freedom of information request he rightfully addressed to the Government’s Secretary-general in order to get information on the functioning and structure of the newly founded Crisis Headquarters of the Republic of Slovenia (Krizni štab Republike Slovenije), in charge of combatting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Instead of getting a standard response, his request was met with a preoccupying retweet from the official account of this very same Crisis Headquarters, which declared Mr. Zgaga part of a group of « 4 patients who escaped from quarantine », adding that these four patients had « a Covid-Marx/Lenin virus », as an exaggerated and allusive way to mention Mr. Zgaga’s criticism of the far-right ruling party, Slovenska demokratska stranka (SDS).

In addition to this defamatory attack, the SDS-owned media Nova24TV initiated a smear campaign against the journalist, after he had sent his freedom of information request, with an article depicting him as a « (pseudo-) journalist of the deep State (…) fearful of losing (his) privileges ».

Unfortunately, this attack was not isolated, as another SDS-owned media, weekly magazine Demokracija, joined the smear campaign against Mr. Zgaga by publishing the same article and targeting him simply for exercising his journalistic activity. Finally – and even worse -, anonymous internet users are now threatening him with death, saying « he must literally be shot! ».

Mr. Zgaga now fears for his life after the declarations made by your Government’s supporters, likening him to an enemy of the State.

Mr. Zgaga is a best-selling author and a distinguished journalist, who has worked for Slovenia’s main dailies and whose articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Observer, USA Today, The Globe as well as many other renowned newspapers. He also happens to be a member of the prestigious International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and has been awarded several journalistic distinctions for his work, including a New York Press Club Award for Journalism, reflecting the quality and seriousness of his activity, as well as his work ethic.

Despite the particular context in which Slovenia and other countries currently find themselves, State authorities should not use the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to prevent journalists from doing their work. Journalistic reporting is vital for our societies, especially at this time, in the midst of a health crisis where false information is spread very quickly. Your government has a responsibility to protect the press and to ensure journalists their right to report freely and independently, but also a duty to guarantee journalists an open access to information.

Next year, Slovenia will be holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from July to December. Your country will be under great scrutiny ahead of and during this presidency. We therefore call on your government to ensure that freedoms of expression and information, which are protected by the EU Charter of Fundamental rights, are respected.

We respectfully urge you to do everything in your power to guarantee Mr. Zgaga’s safety and to ensure the death threats and attacks against him are treated with the utmost seriousness by the Slovenian police, in order for his journalistic activity to continue without him having to fear for his life.

 

Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders

 

with co-signatories:

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)

International Press Institute (IPI)

ARTICLE 19

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