Ján Kuciak believed that he could live with his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, in a country free from corruption and the supremacy of the few chosen ones. He was not afraid to write about how Slovakia was being broken down from within. He was not afraid to look the truth in the eye and spread it. There was no calculation on his part – nothing but the belief he was standing on the right side and helping justice. However, he did not live to see it being delivered. Together with his fiancée, he was murdered in cold blood, thus paying the highest price for the purge of Slovakia.
Ján and Martina’s death became a symbol of the fight for justice. Many politicians from various countries reacted to this tragic event at that time, including our Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
"I have read about the murder of 27year-old Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his spouse, and I was shocked. If it is confirmed that this is related to his work, then it’s insane. It would never have occurred to me that something like this could happen in Slovakia in 2018. I completely condemn violence against journalists."
The shooter, Miroslav Marček, described that he had originally wanted to shoot Ján Kuciak already on February 19, 2018. However, through the window, he saw another person in the house. Two days later, Marček, together with his accomplice Tomáš Szabó, came back to Kuciak’s residence in Veľká Mača. Marček waited in the summer kitchen, watching Kuciak’s house for almost two hours. Just before half-past eight in the evening he entered the house and shot the journalist to the chest and his fiancée in the head with a silenced weapon.
"I want to apologize to the bereaved for all the harm we’ve inflicted on them. We can’t ever compensate for that. Seeing them on TV, seeing their pain made me talk about what happened. I’m sorry, but I can’t undo it," said the shooter Marček in court.
According to the police, Kuciak and Kušnírová were shot dead on February 21, 2018. The police did not find their bodies until four days later, based on notifications from their relatives, who could not reach the young couple.
So far, only the executors of the murders have been punished; their contractors are still escaping justice. Marček confessed to the crime, Tomáš Szabó was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but appealed against the verdict. Zoltán Andruskó was sentenced to 15 years as the intermediary of the murder.
In September 2020, a specialised criminal court acquitted Marian Kočner and Alena Zsuzsová, the main suspects in ordering the murder, for lack of evidence. Prosecutor Turan appealed the decision.
In January this year, Kočner was sentenced to 19 years in prison for counterfeiting bills of exchange. Zsuzsová didn’t enjoy freedom for long as well. Immediately after her release from custody, the police detained her again, as she’s suspect and charged with more cases of contract killings (László Basternák, Maroš Žilinka, Peter Šufliarsky, Daniel Lipšic).
Among the most important pieces of evidence presented are the records from Zsuzsová's and Andrusko's cell phones from the day after the murder, along with a record of Zsuzsová's heartbeat. On that day, Zsuzsová was talking to an unidentified person, while a data transfer from Zoltán Andrusek's mobile phone was recorded. According to Zsuzsová’s fitness bracelet, immediately after this data transfer, her heart rate rose to 161 beats per minute – a value the bracelet had never measured before or since. Another proof might be how often Zsuzsová and Kočner visited news portals the day after the murder.
Other evidence includes their communication about „grazing sheep“ (blackmailing influential people), quotes from the Threema application, Kočner's USB stick with photos and video recordings from stalking journalists, motion analysis, recordings of Kočner's phone calls with Peter Tóth and additional hearings of other witnesses.
Some of the aforementioned evidence had been submitted by the prosecutor's office to the court of the first instance shortly before the verdict was issued last September, but the Senate did not discuss it at that time.
In connection with the anniversary of Ján Kuciak’s murder, representatives of Reporters Without Borders and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists together with EU Commissioner Věra Jourová raised awareness on Twitter about the fight for justice and protection of journalists.
"It has been three years since the tragic event that became a historic memento. It was clear from the beginning that their deaths were not accidental and that they were closely related to the investigative work of Ján Kuciak. The events of recent months confirm that the suspicions he wrote about were true. Today, we already know the faces of the perpetrators of the murder, but for justice in Slovakia, it is necessary that the contractors of this murder be convicted, and I very much hope that we will see this happen in the coming months. Please let us pay a minute of silence to Ján and Martina tonight," said the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová.
The Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, Igor Matovič, commemorated the anniversary of the murder by criticizing journalists.
"Three years after the murder, it's time to face the truth about Slovak journalism. In Slovakia, we could count the journalists of the qualities of Ján Kuciak – and I’m exaggerating here - on the fingers of two hands. UNFORTUNATELY. The rest is... I'd rather not comment. Often superficial, often biased, often condescending."
The murder of the couple in their family house in the village of Veľká Mača, Galanta district provoked the largest wave of protests and societal changes in Slovakia since November '89. In cooperation with the families of Ján and Martina, Trnava authorities are preparing to create a memorial of freedom of speech in Veľká Mača.
After the demolition of the family house, a park shall be created in its place. The summer kitchen, which is to be turned into a memorial room, shall remain, as well as the spray-painted gate. According to the President of the region, Jozef Viskupič, the Trnava Self-governing Region is prepared to allocate the necessary amount for creating a museum and a place of reverence from its budget.
The Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic is preparing a new draft law, which should guarantee a greater degree of protection for journalists, as well as protection of their resources.
"It matters a great deal to us. Our sincere effort is to make the media environment in Slovakia better," said the head of the Ministry of Culture, Natália Milanová.
The journalist protection organization Reporters without Borders (RSF) saw an increase in violence against journalists in 2020, especially in connection with the coverage of protests in the United States and France. In the United States, it concerned reporting on protests following the May killing of African-American citizen George Floyd, while in France it was in regard to covering demonstrations against the new controversial security law.
According to the annual report of RFS, 50 journalists and media professionals were killed through the exercise of their employment in 2020, most of them in countries with no military conflict going on.
In 2019, 53 journalists were killed, however, the RSF adds that due to the coronavirus pandemic, fewer journalists worked in the field this year. The RSF also speaks of 387 imprisoned journalists, calling it a "historic number." Fourteen of these journalists were arrested in connection with information about the coronavirus crisis.
"Links between drug traffickers and politicians still exist, and journalists who report on these and related issues continue to be the target of brutal murders," states RSF in its annual report, adding that none of the murders in Mexico have been punished yet.
In Bulgaria, local journalist Victoria Marinova was raped and brutally murdered. She was a journalist, presenter and director of the regional television TVN. Her last broadcast was an interview with journalists covering the affair known as GP Gate (tunnelling money from EU funds).
Indian reporter Rakesh Singh Nirbhik was burned alive last December in his house after being doused with a highly flammable alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
Despite ongoing peace talks between the government and the Taliban, targeted attacks on media professionals are on the rise, The year 2018 was the deadliest for Afghan journalists since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. A total of 15 journalists was killed in a series of bombings, nine of them in a single day.
Journalists who dare to report on the protesters' demands are intimidated, abducted, physically attacked or even killed by unidentified militias. Threats are intended to discourage them from investigation and publishing the results of their work. Murders of journalists go unpunished, often not even investigated, and even in the case an investigation does occur, according to the bereaved it leads nowhere.
The division of Yemen into areas controlled by armed Houthi rebels, the so-called legitimate government and southern separatists has deepened media polarization as well. Neutral reports of war are rare, because the media are controlled by different sides of the conflict. There are very few foreign reporters in the country, while Yemeni journalists are trapped in the midst of all these forces. One of the Houthi hostages, Anwar al-Rakan, died tragically shortly after his release in 2018.
RSF also cites the case of Iranian opposition journalist Ruhollah Zama, who ran a popular social network channel where opponents of the regime gathered and who was sentenced to death by hanging.
"His execution confirms Iran's reputation as the country that has officially killed the most journalists in the last half-century." points out RSF.
In Pakistan, the distribution of some newspapers, especially the leading daily paper Dawn, was interrupted. Other media were facing the risk of their advertisers withdrawing commercials. Television channels that provided space for representatives of the opposition had their signal jammed. Field journalists are often in danger of death, especially in the western provinces, where they are commonly targeted in shootings. In 2019, four journalists and a blogger were killed in connection with their activities. For at least a decade there has been complete impunity for violent crimes against journalists.
On November 23, 2009, participants of the election parade were slaughtered on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Members of the influential Ampatuan family clan massacred supporters of their political rival, who, like the clan leader Andal Ampatuan, wanted to run for governor. The convoy of vehicles going through the city of Ampatuan was attacked by more than a hundred gunmen and police officers. The attackers dragged their victims to the mountains, where they were murdered and buried in mass graves. 57 people were killed, including 34 journalists.
With a total of 34 countries and more than half the world's population, the Asia-Pacific region holds the sad world record for imprisoning journalists and bloggers – especially in China and Vietnam. Some of the most dangerous countries for journalists and bloggers, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines and Bangladesh lies in the region as well. Moreover, the Asia-Pacific region also has the largest share of the so-called "Predators of Press Freedom", i.e. dictatorial regimes responsible for censorship and information "black holes", examples of which being North Korea and Laos.
At the end of last December, Chinese journalist Chang Chan was sentenced to four years in prison for reporting from Wuhan City during the initial phase of the spread of a new type of coronavirus infection.
Cuban and Venezuelan journalists are under constant pressure from their governments, which use all means of independent media censorship against them. Meanwhile, journalists in the United States are not free to publish cases related to surveillance or espionage.
According to the Inter-American Association of Journalists (IAPA), throughout 2020, 11 journalists lost their lives in Mexico, four in Honduras, two in Venezuela and Guatemala each, and one in Barbados, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay each.
The IAPA has condemned the recent murder of Honduran journalist Pedro Arcángelo Canelas. He was the fourth journalist killed in the country in 2020. Canelas was the owner of a radio station and hosted a news program, writes Deutsche Welle. He died in the Olancho department, shot by a man riding by on a motorcycle. The IAPA has called on the Honduran government to investigate the act.