As Robert Fico, leader of SMER party, which took victory in the recent parliamentary elections, is set to become Slovakia’s new Prime Minister, ARTICLE 19 reiterates its call for justice for the murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová – a case tied to the highest level of Slovak politics, which toppled Fico’s previous government back in 2018.
Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová were shot and killed at their home on 21 February 2018. Kuciak had regularly reported on cases of corruption for Slovakia’s independent online news website, Aktuality.sk. His investigative reporting included articles on alleged tax fraud committed by prominent members of the business community, with suggested links to Robert Fico’s SMER, as well as organised crime groups.
The murder sent shockwaves through Slovakia and sparked the biggest demonstrations since the Velvet Revolutions in 1989. The protests eventually forced the resignation of Robert Fico’s and his entire cabinet, with a new Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini appointed shortly after.
Five years on, Kuciak’s and Kušnírová’s families are still struggling for justice. From the start, concerns have been raised about political meddling into the police investigation.
The hitmen who committed and facilitated the murder have since been brought to justice and sentenced to long prison terms.
However, the alleged mastermind of the murder, businessman Marian Kočner continues to evade justice. He was originally acquitted and subsequently found not guilty in a retrial which concluded in May 2023 – a decision which ARTICLE 19 and partners at Media Freedom Rapid Response strongly condemned at the time. Kočner’s case is now going to be heard in the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic. The ruling embodies a notorious pattern of a heavily constrained scope of accountability when solely the direct culprits stand a trial while those who ordered or planned an assassination of a journalist evade justice. Conviction of the alleged mastermind would set a global example and constitute a milestone in the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists.
Marian Kočner is believed to have links to both organised crime and the SMER party. With Fico recent victory in the elections, concerns grow whether the impunity for the murder will be allowed to continue.
Prior to the September election, SMER party published at least 174 posts targeting journalists on social media. Previously, Fico also repeatedly alleged that journalists were “an organised criminal group with the aim of breaking Slovak statehood” and called on the Slovak police to investigate them.
Barbora Bukovská, Senior Director of Law and Policy at ARTICLE 19, said:
As Robert Fico prepares to become Prime Minister for the fourth time, the international community must not forget about Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. The new Government must refrain from any steps that would undermine an ongoing legal process to secure justice for Ján, Martina and their families. Those who ordered the murder of Ján and Martina must not be allowed to act with impunity. Justice will only be served when all individuals responsible for the murders are held to account for their actions, without exception
The new Prime Minister and the new Government must commit to media freedom in the country and refrain from targeting the media and journalists. Media must be allowed to carry their watchdog function without threats and intimidation.
Combating impunity for crimes against journalists is essential for safeguarding freedom of expression. Jan Kuciak, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Peter R. de Vries or Giorgos Karaivaz were killed for investigating and exposing crime, corruption and reporting on other vital public interest issues. Assassination of a public watchdog rarely happens in a void. Rather, it’s preceded by consistent and sometimes coordinated smear campaigns to create a hostile climate in which a journalist is singled out, vilified, discredited and eventually isolated. Any comprehensive strategy to address impunity must encompass paths to combat hateful narratives aimed at scapegoating those who speak truth to power.