Viktoria Marinova murder: are journalists in Europe still safe?
Bulgarian reporter becomes third EU journalist to be killed this year
A Bulgarian investigative reporter has become the third journalist to be murdered in the European Union this year, part of a wider trend that has seen press freedom increasingly under attack across the continent.
Stressing “there is no democracy without a free press”, the European Commission has urged Bulgaria to conduct a rapid investigation into the killing of journalist Viktoria Marinova.
The 30-year-old’s body was found in a park near the Danube river in the norther city of Ruse on Saturday and a preliminary autopsy revealed she had been raped, beaten and suffocated before her body was dumped.
Bulgarian media reports said that over the last year Marinova had been reporting on an ongoing investigation into alleged corruption involving the misuse of EU funds by businesses and local politicians, although “it’s not clear if Marinova's murder was related to her journalistic work”, says CNN.
Bulgaria’s government said there was no evidence the killing was linked to Marinova’s journalism for local television station TVN, “but her death has drawn international condemnation and press freedom campaigners have expressed fears of a cover-up”, says The Independent.
Bulgaria ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index this year, “lower than any other EU member” says Reuters.
In October 2017, hundreds of Bulgarian journalists protested in central Sofia over threats from deputy prime minister Valeri Simeonov against the country’s biggest broadcasters.
Drew Sullivan, co-founder of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, said the EU should launch an independent probe into the killing.
He added: “Why do we keep leaving investigations to the very governments who the reporters are investigating when they are killed?”
Marinova is the third investigative journalist from the European Union to have been targeted in less than 12 months.
Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative reporter, was killed when a bomb blew up her car in October last year and Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was shot dead in February.
Europe has seen the steepest decline in World Press Freedom Index regional rankings over the past year: Malta is now ranked 65th, down by 18 points, and Slovakia 27th, down by 10.
It is, however, part of a wider global trend, with one journalist killed on average every week around the world, according to figures compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Most of those killed in 2017 were murdered for their investigations into political corruption and organised crime, according to several media rights groups cited by the BBC.
“In the last six years, it's been an incredibly dangerous time to be a journalist,” says Robert Mahoney the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deputy executive director. “Many journalists are not killed in conflicts, they are murdered and deliberately targeted for their work.”
Nor is it just non-state actors who are targeting journalists.
“As security – rather than the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms – becomes the number one priority of governments worldwide, broadly-written security laws have been twisted to silence journalists”, wrote Index on Censorship’s Jodie Ginsburg last year.
Type the word “terror” into the search box of Mapping Media Freedom, Index on Censorship’s European media freedom monitor, and more than 200 cases appear related to journalists targeted for their work under terror laws.
“This includes everything from alleged public order offences in Catalonia to the “harming of national interests in Ukraine” to the hundreds of journalists jailed in Turkey following the failed coup” says Ginsberg.
The Council of Europe’s live tracker currently lists 126 journalists in detention across the EU.