In Memory of Ján Kuciak, ICJK Launches Mechanism to Protect Journalists

Published: 21 February 2023

Jan Kuciak CandlessJán Kuciak He risked his life to expose crime. His fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, was also murdered. (Photo: Ing.Mgr.Jozef Kotulič, Wikimedia, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

On the fifth anniversary of the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, a Slovak investigative center named after him has launched on Monday an initiative to enhance journalists’ safety, which is identified as one of Slovakia’s most pressing issues.

The Investigative Center of Ján Kuciak (ICJK), an OCCRP partner, administers the project Bezpečná.ž or, which aims to monitor assaults on journalists and support those who have been targeted.

The initiative has already warned that five years after the murder of Kuciak and Kušnírová, the “number of attacks against journalists is not decreasing” in Slovakia.

An ICJK online survey, conducted between December 2022 and January 2023 in cooperation with the polling agency AKO on a sample of 400 journalists in Slovakia, suggested that “more than two-thirds of Slovak journalists have faced attacks and/or threats over the last year because of their work.”

The survey warned that such attacks, whether verbal or written, given personally or online, have become a part of the regular daily job.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which provided funding and expertise to the project, along with the Dutch Embassy in Slovakia and the Dutch system for journalist protection - PersVeilig, stated that the next step for will be specific measures to protect journalists, which will be designed in consultation with Slovak authorities.

At the time of his death, Kuciak was collaborating with OCCRP.

An investigation into the high-profile Slovakian businessman Marian Kočner, led to his death, as he dared to touch the until then untouchables in the country.

Kuciak’s murder provoked protests across Slovakia and eventually led to resignation of the then prime minister Robert Fico, but also to the arrest of Kočner who was accused of the murder along with three others - Alena Zsuzsová, Tomáš Szabó and Miroslav Marček.

Kočner and Zsuzsová were believed to have ordered and arranged Kuciak’s murder, Marček admitted to pulling the trigger and killing the young couple, while Szabó acted as Marček’ driver on the night of the murder.

Marček was sentenced to 25 years in jail, the maximum sentence in Slovakia, as well as Szabó, who was found guilty of assisting in Kuciak’s murder and another murder. Middleman Zoltán Adruskó was sentenced to 15 years jail in a separate trial.

In September 2020, the alleged organizers of the murder, Kočner and Zsuzsová, were acquitted. Kočner was only found guilty of one count of possessing ammunition, which he had already confessed. He was fined 5,000 euros. He was later sentenced to 19 years in prison for fraud in a separate case.

In the meantime, Zsuzsová was charged with involvement in the attempted murders of some prosecutors in the Kuciak case.

The retrial verdict for the suspected mastermind of the 2018 murder of Ján Kuciak and his fiancée is scheduled for April 2023, according to RSF.

“Slovak journalists won’t be safe unless full justice is served for the assassination of Jan Kuciak and systemic measures are taken,” said Pavol Szalai, Head of the EU-Balkans Desk, RSF., he added, 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,” he said.