Tomorrow marks a full year since Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were murdered in Slovakia. Kuciak was investigating cross-border corruption and links between powerful people and various mafia networks.
Since February 2018, we have closely monitored press and media freedom in Slovakia. We welcome the arrests of suspects who have now been charged in connection with Kuciak’s and Kušnírová’s murder.
However, a few months before he was killed, Kuciak reported threats against his person to the police. He published a post on his Facebook timeline on 20 October 2017 describing the absence of police actions after he had officially reported a threat by the businessman Marián Kočner. “It's 44 days since I filed a threat ... and the case probably doesn’t even have a particular cop [named in the case]”, his post reads.
When journalists report threats against them, the state is obliged to protect their life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We are concerned that to date there has been no adequate investigation of possible state breaches in its protective obligation.
We need answers to the following questions:
(i) whether Slovakia knew, or ought to have known, of a present and immediate threat to his life;
(ii) which steps, if any, they took to protect Kuciak from that threat;
(iii) and what will be done to protect Slovak journalists in the future.
The killing of Kuciak and Kušnírová shocked the European public and has had a chilling effect on other journalists. In an environment of intimidation, threats, political interference and impunity, investigative journalists have to fear for their lives to fulfil their work and report on corruption and other threats to democracy. The value of independent journalism and free media should not be put into question. Anti-media rhetoric from those in high office is unacceptable, all the more so after the assassination of Ján Kuciak.
In addition, in January 2019 the Slovak ruling party proposed a bill, which would amend the Press Act to reintroduce a “right of reply”. If passed, this provision would contribute to an increasingly hostile environment for the free press by providing politicians who are the subject of critical news with the means to censor unwanted criticism. We call on the Slovak parliament to reject this bill. Moreover, the Government of the Slovak Republic must not undermine trust in public institutions, including the now to be newly composed Constitutional Court. It is its duty to uphold the rule of law.
We ask the Slovak authorities to carefully consider the resolution, approved by the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament on 19. February 2019, that includes a call on the Government of Slovakia to ensure the safety of journalists.
It is imperative that all relevant state authorities take effective and consistent action to counter the lack of safety for journalists across Europe.
We seek justice for Ján Kuciak’s killing. We will keep pressuring until the perpetrators are found and duly convicted according to European standards.
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
Association of European Journalists (AEJ)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
Index on Censorship
Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)
Ossigeno per l’informazione
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)