Peter R. de Vries, who specialised in covering crime, died of the gunshot injuries to the head that he received on 6 July. The Dutch police quickly arrested two suspected perpetrators after the shooting but have yet to identify who ordered it or discover the motive. Furthermore, a live broadcast of the RTL Boulevard programme in which de Vries participated immediately before the shooting had to be cancelled on 10 July because of a serious threat.
Aged 64 and much respected by fellow journalists and the Dutch public, de Vries took a close interest in both recent cases with organised crime links as well older ones, which would explain why he was targeted. A crime reporter for 40 years, he had won the trust of several victims and had served as their mouthpiece or adviser. He had, for example, advised the main prosecution witness in the case against Ridouan Taghi, the country’s most wanted criminal and suspected organised crime boss.
“The murder of Peter R. de Vries is the latest in a series of murders of journalists in Europe, where organised crime now represents a major danger for the media profession,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s EU and Balkans desk.
“The mafia-style ‘hit’ on this Dutch journalist follows three other murders in which organised crime is also suspected – those of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in 2017, Jan Kuciak in Slovakia in 2018 and Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece in April of this year. We therefore urge the Netherlands, which is ranked sixth in the World Press Freedom Index, to set an example in the way it identifies and prosecutes those responsible for this murder.”
Threats from organised crime against Dutch journalists have increased in recent years. A live grenade was found outside the home of a crime reporter for the newspaper De Limburger in December 2020. In June 2018, three Dutch newspapers – De Telegraaf, Panorama and Nieuwe Revu – were the targets of attacks using an anti-tank missile and a van driven into the facade of their premises.
Organised crime is suspected of being behind the murders of three other journalists in the European Union in the past four years, in cases in which national authorities have struggled to render justice to the victims. The most recent previous victim, Greek crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz, was gunned down in broad daylight in Athens on 9 April. Despite the government's promise to act in a “swift and expedited” manner, the investigation has not progressed.
The accused instigator of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak’s murder in February 2018 has still not been convicted, the Slovak supreme court having only recently overturned businessman Marian Kocner’s acquittal on a charge of ordering the hit.
Several people are suspected of ordering and carrying out the 2017 car-bomb killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a reporter who was investigating corruption at the highest levels of the state in Malta. But only one of them has so far been convicted. Yorgen Fenech, a businessman accused of ordering her murder, is currently detained pending a trial that will not begin before this autumn.
Reporters are often organised crime targets in the south of the European Union. Around 20 journalists live under permanent police protection in Italy, although this does not prevent them from being regularly targeted. Journalist Fabio Buonofiglio’s car was destroyed by a fire in Calabria in April 2020, while reporter Michele Santagata was ambushed in the town of Cosenza in the same region in September 2020.
The situation is no better in Bulgaria, which has the lowest ranking of any EU country in the World Press Freedom Index. Journalists are often attacked there. Recent victims include Slavi Angelov, an investigative journalist who was badly beaten outside his home in March 2020. The perpetrator has still not been identified.
Slovakia, Italy, Malta and Bulgaria are ranked 35th, 41st, 56th and 81st respectively in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
See the report entitled “Journalists: bête noire of organised crime” that RSF published in November 2018.