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16.03.2018

Slovakia: protesters demand new elections, Kuciak family lawyer worries about “absurd statements” by authorities

By Emil Weber

Organisers of the civil protest in Slovakia are calling for snap elections despite Prime Minister Robert Fico’s resignation on Thursday, following the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak.

Vigil Ján Kuciak

More protests have been announced for Friday afternoon, 16 March 2018, in around 30 cities within Slovakia and also foreign capitals. 

Thousands of people joined two earlier demonstrations in the past two weeks in the wake of the murder of Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, who were found shot dead on February 25 in the town of Vel’ka Mača.

Kuciak’s recent social media posts and stories involved the doings of suspicious businessmen - including those with alleged mafia connections - with ties to top aides of Prime Minister Robert Fico and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák. Prior to Fico’s resignations, his aides Mária Trošková and Viliam Jasaň had resigned immediately after Kuciak’s story was published by Aktuality.sk posthumously.

On Thursday 15 February, Slovak President, Andrej Kiska, mandated Deputy Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini to form a new cabinet. Pellegrini is a member of the largest political party, the social democratic Smer, led by Fico. But, according to protesters and journalists, no real change has taken place in Slovakia, yet.

Peter Nagy, project manager at daily newspaper SME, says he started the civil protest initiative in early March together with his wife. Five other young people, all students or early stage researchers, have joined the protest organising team since then.

The new Prime Minister is the old’s right-hand

"Some people have changed their position in the government, but no real change has taken place on Thursday. The new Prime Minister is Fico’s right-hand”, Peter Nagy told the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) on Friday. “We do believe there are people in this government who are involved in organised crime and corruption”. Thus, he said, the protesters demand new elections as an opportunity for a real change. “We will not stop [protesting] until our demands are met”, Nagy added. “People are angry”.

Tibor Macak, secretary general of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), who spoke to ECPMF from Bratislava, joined Nagy in dismissing Thursday’s government changes. “Pellegrini is a puppet in the hands of Fico. He is absolutely no guarantor for any independent investigation of the killing of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová”, Macak said. “Fico said to President Kiska during the resignation with a smile on his face: ‘Don’t worry, I won’t be leaving politics.’. This is all just terrible theatre”.

Peter Bárdy, editor-in-chief at Aktuality.sk, Kuciak’s employer, told ECPMF that “the public will not accept cosmetic changes”.

Flutura Kusari, legal advisor of the ECPMF, said that “we welcome the resignation of Slovak Prime Minister as a symbolic gesture of political responsibility. “However, the ECPMF is concerned that the killing of journalist Ján Kuciak is turning into a political battle when investigation should be a top priority”.

Protest organiser Peter Nagy says, the second demand of the protesters is an independent investigation of the murder of the journalist and his fiancée. “Which means not just consulting but also the direct involvement of other authorities such as Europol”, Nagy adds. “This is also required because there’s already been so many mistakes in the [local] investigation until now”.

An ad-hoc delegation by the EU Parliament which went to Slovakia on 7 to 9 March, mentioned in its report the “high distrust” towards institutions, concerns regarding corruption and mafia involvement in the country, as well as an atmosphere against journalists.

Family lawyer: some statements of the police leadership are not helping

“It is hard to believe that there will be objective results under this police [leadership] and political representation”, AEJ’s Macak said. However, Peter Bárdy, editor of Aktuality.sk, says that the current prosecutor dealing with the case “seems to be professional and has a clean past". "He is not affiliated with any scandal”, said Bárdy. “I hope the investigations will be conducted properly”.

Daniel Lipšic, a lawyer representing the Kuciak family, told the ECPMF that he has been in contact with several investigators and the prosecutor. He was convinced that they are trying to do their best in finding the offenders.

“However, some of the statements of the police leadership are not helping. For example, the police director publically debated possible options behind the murder, including options that were easily refutable by the facts”, Lipšic said. “So they were absurd and incompetent statements”.

Major freedom of media organizations have called upon the European Union to act to protect journalists after the recent murders of investigative journalists Ján Kuciak in Slovakia and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta.





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