Police suspect a Slovakian investigative reporter shot dead alongside his partner was murdered because of his work, local media have reported.
The bodies of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were found on Sunday night at their home in the town of Velka Maca.
The deaths come five months after Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a suspected car bombing. Both countries are part of the European Union.
Kuciak was found with bullet wounds to the chest while Kusnirova had been shot in the head, Slovak police told a press conference today.
They said the murders were likely connected to Kuciak’s investigative work.
The 27-year-old, who worked for online investigative news outlet Aktuality.sk for three years, was well known for stories about tax fraud and real estate deals involving Slovak businessmen with close connections to the country’s ruling party.
He also contributed to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Panama Papers investigation, writing stories relating to Slovakia on the leaked data that exposed the global scale of offshore tax havens.
Aktuality.sk publisher Ringier Axel Springer has released a statement confirming an apparent connection between Kuciak’s death and his latest investigation into a Slovak businessman with ties to several politicians.
The statement said: “If this crime was an attempt to discourage an independent publisher, such as Ringier Axel Springer, from detecting a violation of the law, we will use this as an opportunity to further strengthen our journalistic responsibility.”
Kuciak, who studied at the University of Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra, also previously worked at daily newspaper Hospodárske Noviny.
A group of Slovakian editors joined together to release a statement saying Kuciak’s murder was a “serious sign that crime is turning against one of the most important pillars of freedom: freedom of speech and the right of citizens to control those in power and those who disrespect the law”.
Reporters Without Borders also condemned the killings. Pauline Adès-Mével, head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk, said: “An investigative reporter has yet again been murdered in a European Union country.
“We call for an investigation in order to establish the exact circumstances of Ján Kuciak’s death and we demand that the authorities shed all possible light on this case, especially as he and those close to him had been threatened in recent months.”
The International Press Institute’s executive director Barbara Trionfi said: “This killing, which comes so soon after last year’s assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, is a terrible sign for journalism in the EU and underscores the risks that journalists continue to face, even in democratic states such as Slovakia.
“We must now double down on our efforts to protect the safety of journalists. The murder of a journalist is a crime not only against the victim, but also against society as a whole.
“It is the most direct way of silencing critical voices and depriving the people of their right to information, especially about the activities of those in power.
“The Slovak authorities must immediately investigate this horrendous act and send a clear message that attacks against journalists are unacceptable and that those responsible will be brought to justice.”
Gaspar told local media that Slovakia had never before experienced such an attack on a journalist. The country is ranked 17th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Kuciak’s death is the fifth incident involving journalists being murdered in an EU country in the past 10 years.
Another Panama Papers reporter, Caruana Galizia, was killed when a bomb exploded in her car in Malta on 16 October. In December, three men were charged with murder, the criminal use of explosives, criminal conspiracy, and being involved in organised crime in relation to her death.
Twelve people were killed during an attack on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on 7 January 2015.
Greek investigative journalist and radio station manager Socratis Guiolias was shot dead outside his home in July 2010 after investigating corruption in the business community.
Croatian newspaper editor Ivo Pukanic was killed by a bomb planted next to his car in 2008.
Picture: Reporters Without Borders