Access to reliable information that journalists provide civil society is the lifeblood of a resilient democracy, where a robust system of checks and balances thrives. Impunity for the killings of journalists diminishes the rule of law and press freedom. As today we mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, we want to pay a special tribute to those reporters in Europe whose families still await justice for their murders. They were threatened, targeted and murdered for challenging the powerful and corrupt. We call on the states to redouble their political will to tackle impunity.
When Greek veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz was shot dead in Athens in 2021, the authorities committed to prioritising the case and bringing all perpetrators to justice. Yet, for two long years, there was no significant progress. While the arrest in April 2023 of two suspects marks an important step towards accountability, the case remains in a state of impunity as potential middlemen and masterminds have not been apprehended and no convictions have been delivered. Justice can only be served when all those directly and indirectly involved in planning and executing the assassination are held responsible for their actions, without exceptions.
Karaivaz was gunned down in front of his house in broad daylight sending a clear and chilling message to all reporters in Greece who hold power to account by exposing inconvenient truths. The abhorrent murder and the repeated failure to conduct a swift and thorough investigation is in part a consequence of inaction in the case of the 2010 murder of journalist Sokratis Giolias and came amidst numerous unresolved cases of threats and attacks against journalists. This worrying pattern ultimately underscores that despite declarations, the state continues to fall short of ensuring the safety of journalists with no concrete measures taken to improve the situation let alone secure justice. The recent MFRR mission to Greece, during which the delegation met with both journalists and public officials, further confirmed the stark erosion of media freedom in the country. We renewed our call for the authorities to dedicate additional resources and staff to the cases of violence against journalists and recognise their special nature to finally guarantee prompt, independent and efficient investigations.
The murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová in 2018 sparked the biggest nationwide protest since the Velvet Revolution in 1989. The public’s rage subsequently translated into a vibrant quest for change and eventually toppled Robert Fico’s government. Kuciak, who was ruthlessly shot in his own home, reported on corruption, tax fraud and shady connections between businesses and oligarchs close to Fico’s SMER party. Five years on, Fico is back as Prime Minister for the 4th time, while the families of Kuciak and Kušnírová still await full justice.
From the start, the process has been marked by allegations of political meddling in the police investigation. While the culprits who executed and facilitated the murder have since been prosecuted and sentenced to 25 years in prison, the suspected mastermind has continued to evade accountability. Businessman Marian Kočner was acquitted in a retrial in May 2023, a decision that the MFRR strongly condemned at the time stressing the massive setback for the protracted fight against impunity for Kuciak and Kušnírová’s murder. The verdict arrived amidst a resurgence of verbal attacks on Slovakian journalists, with top politicians launching smear campaigns that continue to go unaddressed. Before the September election, the SMER party disseminated at least 174 posts targeting journalists on social media which raises further concerns about whether the newly appointed government will rise to the occasion to tackle the climate of impunity and hostility against journalists. The MFRR delegation visited Bratislava in February 2023 to commemorate Kuciak and Kušnírová on the fifth anniversary of their murder and to reaffirm our steadfast support for the victims’ families. We reiterated the call for the authorities to provide law enforcement with all necessary means to bring justice for the crimes against journalists and to strengthen punishment for attacks against journalists targeted for their work.
The glaring illustration of how a total absence of political will perpetuates ongoing impunity has been bluntly demonstrated in the case of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed in a car bomb in October 2016. Incessant pressure from Daphne’s family and civil society groups resulted in the creation of an independent public inquiry to establish the circumstances that led to the journalist’s death. The final report published in 2021 found the state had to ‘shoulder responsibility’ for Caruana Galizia’s murder as it had created an ‘atmosphere of impunity’ and failed to take effective measures to protect her. The key findings included detailed recommendations on how to enhance the safety of journalists and restore the rule of law so that assassinations like that of Daphne could never happen again. Though in 2022, the hitmen were handed down harsh prison sentences, the masterminds still remain free.
Though the report provided a historic opportunity for the Maltese government to create an enabling environment for independent journalists, and despite the repeated calls from the international community, the authorities remain reluctant to implement these vital safeguards. Civil society was not consulted in the production of draft media lawswhich resemble token gestures that do not offer robust and systemic reforms that are urgently needed. In addition, Malta consistently fails to address corruption and crime exposed by Caruana Galizia and other investigative journalists who operate in a high-risk environment. Daphne Caruana Galizia’s hard-hitting investigations into dirty money scandals, organized crime, and high-level government corruption earned her the nickname a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ – and in turn put a target on her back. Daphne was vilified, harassed and singled out as a public enemy. At the time of her death, she was facing 48 SLAPP cases.
While the EU is still perceived as one of the safest places for journalists, year by year the various attacks are on the rise, with the most tragic examples being the assassinations of journalists. The vicious cycle of impunity tarnishes the press freedom and rule of law reputation of the authorities responsible. EU member states must genuinely engage in fulfilling their international obligations to safeguard media freedom including by redoubling their efforts and strengthening the political will to tackle impunity. In addition, they should fully implement the European Commission’s recommendation on journalists’ safety and report on their progress transparently.
It is imperative to confront impunity for crimes committed against journalists to uphold the principles of free expression and support resilient civil society. Daphne Caruana Galizia, Giorgos Karaivaz and Jan Kuciak were brutally killed for their dedication to investigating and exposing crime, corruption, and other abuses of power that affect our communities. The assassination of a journalist seldom occurs in isolation. Instead, it is often preceded by consistent attempts to denigrate journalists and paint them as traitors to turn the public hostile towards them. We must collectively try harder to neuter and challenge vicious narratives aimed at decreasing trust in independent journalism.