Slovakia: RSF supports new mechanism to increase journalists’ safety to mark the fifth anniversary of Jan Kuciak’s assassination
The verdict in the retrial of the alleged mastermind of the 2018 murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée is set to be delivered in April 2023. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for full justice for the journalist’s killing and announces its financial and expert aid to a unique project for protection of media professionals.
On 20 February 2023, the eve of the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, a new mechanism for protection of journalists is launched to monitor and prevent attacks on Slovak journalists and help the victims. The project called Safe.Journalism.sk (Bezpecna.Zurnalistika.sk) has been set up by the Investigative Centre of Jan Kuciak (ICJK), an investigative media and NGO founded in 2018. RSF supports the project with funding and expertise as one of its two main partners. The other main partner is the Embassy of the Netherlands in Bratislava. Inspired by the Dutch protection mechanism, PersVeilig, the Slovak project is first of its kind in the country.
In its initial phase, Safe.Journalism.sk ran a survey in the Slovak journalistic community to identify the threats. As a next step, specific measures to protect journalists will be designed in discussion with the Slovak authorities.
“Slovak journalists won’t be safe unless full justice is served for the assassination of Jan Kuciak and systemic measures are taken. The launch of SafeJournalism.sk, which we are proud to support, is one such measure. We will continue backing the project as a prime example of cooperation between journalists themselves, with the state and with partners abroad to ensure their protection against a range of threats.
"Our new survey reveals the true extent of the problem of journalists' safety in Slovakia five years after the murder of Jan Kuciak. Up to two-thirds of journalists said they had experienced an attack or threat in the last year. Incitement of hatred by some politicians, online, personal or physical attacks all put pressure on journalists who do their job in the public interest. That is why we are launching Safe.Journalism.sk,” said Lukas Diko, president and editor-in-chief of ICJK.
Online attacks are the most common
The online survey was conducted between December 2022 and January 2023 by the polling agency AKO at a sample of 400 journalists in Slovakia. They work for major national, regional or local and international media.
More than two-thirds (66%) of the respondents experienced an incident (attack or threat) in the past 12 months. The most common were online verbal attacks (40%) and direct verbal attacks (36%). Physical attacks and legal threats such as gag lawsuits were experienced by 4% and 2% of journalists respectively. Almost three-quarters (73%) of incidents were described by journalists as hate speech against them. As a result of the incidents, 16% of reporters resorted to self-censorship.
The survey implies that 16 journalists were victims of physical assaults, a very high number in comparison with other small EU countries. It is all the more concerning in Slovakia which still awaits the verdict for the ordering of the gravest physical attack on a reporter, the assassination of Jan Kuciak on 21 February 2018.
Verdict in Kuciak case in April
But five years on, a first conviction for the ordering of the murder of the journalist and his fiancée is at reach. The verdict in the ongoing retrial of the alleged mastermind Marian Kocner and his accomplice Alena Zsuzsova is set to be announced on April 24, according to the prosecutor Matus Harkabus.
The retrial at the Special Criminal Court started after the Supreme Court had quashed in June 2021 the acquittal of Marian Kocner and Alena Zsuzsova in the first trial.
The businessman’s mobile for ordering the murder with the help of the woman was, according to the prosecutor, Jan Kuciak’s investigative articles in Aktuality.sk. He perceived them as a threat for his business and political interests, as well as his impunity vis-à-vis the Slovak law-enforcement institutions.
Marian Kocner was arrested in June 2018. In the following year, he was sentenced to a 19-year prison term for fraud. The two hitmen in the Jan Kuciak case as well as an intermediary have already been condemned to long prison sentences.