Slovak protesters denounce government response to double murder

Investigation into 2018 killing of reporter and fiancee continues to prompt resignations

Demonstrators take part in a protest rally marking the first anniversary of the murder of Jan Kuciak Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava, Slovakia.  File photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters

Demonstrators take part in a protest rally marking the first anniversary of the murder of Jan Kuciak Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava, Slovakia. File photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters

 

Slovak demonstrators returned to the streets on Friday to protest against their government’s alleged failure to combat corruption and sever links between politicians and criminals since the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.

Mr Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were shot dead at his house east of the Slovak capital, Bratislava, in February 2018. They were both 27 years old.

Mr Kuciak uncovered links between powerful politicians – including associates of Slovakia’s then prime minister Robert Fico – and alleged Slovak criminals and an Italian businessman with suspected ties to the Calabrian Mafia.

Mr Fico, two interior ministers and the national police chief all resigned in the wake of the killings, which triggered the biggest protests seen in Slovak towns and cities since the 1989 Velvet Revolution in communist Czechoslovakia.

The populist Smer party clung on to power, however, and Mr Fico is seen as the dominant force behind a government that continues to be rocked by revelations linked to the investigation into the double murder.

Deputy justice minister Monika Jankovska resigned this month due to pressure over her alleged association with Marian Kocner, a businessman whom Mr Kuciak investigated and who is one of five people charged with the killings. Earlier this year, two deputy general prosecutors also stepped down over links to Mr Kocner.

‘Perpetrators conviceted’

“We believe that the investigation will be completed soon and the perpetrators convicted. Our first demand is being met, thanks to the courageous and thorough work of investigators and prosecutors,” the For a Decent Slovakia movement, which emerged in response to the murders, said in announcing Friday’s protest in Bratislava and more a dozen other Slovak and foreign cities.

“The second demand – a new and trustworthy government – grows in importance with every new case that is revealed, and with elections approaching. We want a government that is based on democratic principles and has no links to organised crime. A government that can restore people’s trust in state institutions.”

Parliamentary elections are due to be held by next March. Polls suggest that Smer remains Slovakia’s most popular party and the government of prime minister Peter Pellegrini survived a confidence vote this week.

Opposition parties called the vote after Mr Pellegrini’s refused to dismiss Ms Jankovska when police ordered her to hand over her mobile phone, amid reports that she had exchanged many messages with Mr Kocner, who denies any involvement in the murder.

She denies having any contact with the businessman, but prosecutors said that after breaking the encryption on Mr Kocner’s phone they discovered communication with “representatives of state bodies and the justice system”.

‘Denies wrongdoing’

Messages alleged sent between Mr Kocner and another suspect in the murder have been leaked to Slovak media, and in one he reportedly refers to Ms Jankovska as his “monkey” in the justice ministry. Ms Jankovska denies wrongdoing, but resigned after what she called “attacks against my family”.

Slovakia’s liberal president Zuzana Caputova also piled pressure on to Ms Jankovska, saying it was “indefensible” for her to remain in her post while police were investigating possible ties to “a person charged with ordering a murder and other crimes”.