BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – The Slovak Supreme Court today overturned last year’s not guilty verdicts for the suspected masterminds of the 2018 murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kušnírová.
Controversial businessman Marian Kočner and a confidante, Alena Zsuzsová, had been acquitted last September of ordering the murder. However, the Supreme Court has now set that decision aside, ruling that the trial court had failed to take into account the full evidence and circumstances of the case.
The case will now be returned to the Specialized Criminal Court in Pezinok. However, the Supreme Court did not grant prosecutors‘ request to change the judicial panel at the trial court, meaning that the same three judges will rehear the case.
International Press Institute (IPI) Deputy Director Scott Griffen, who attended the Supreme Court hearing today on behalf of IPI and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), welcomed the ruling.
“Today’s decision by the Slovak Supreme Court brings new hope in the fight for justice for Ján and Martina”, Griffen said. “The Specialized Criminal Court now has a clear task: it must exhaustively consider all evidence and the full circumstances of this case. The deficiences in the ruling identifed by the Supreme Court must be addressed and the logic of the original ruling scrutinized.”
“IPI stands in solidarity with the families of Ján and Martina and all those whose lives have been affected by this unspeakable crime. We and our partners will not rest until rest until justice has been secured and all those involved in the murder of Ján and Martina are convicted and sentenced.”
“The Supreme court has given a second chance for justice to prevail“, said IPI Executive Board Vice Chair Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of the leading Slovak daily newspaper SME and a key voice in the fight against impunity for Kuciak’s and Kušnírová’s murders.
“It was unimaginable for us that the story of the murder of Jan Kuciak ends today. Without a convicted mastermind. This trial is not about revenge or expectations of the public. This is a search for truth about who ordered the murder of the Slovak journalist.
“We know that justice often arrives slowly and we also know that Marian Kočner is not going anywhere. But I also think about the families of the victims and how painful this long process is for them and how it keeps reopening their wounds. They will bleed until justice for their children is found.“
Kuciak, an investigative reporter for Aktuality.sk, and Kušnírová were gunned down on February 21, 2018, in the home they shared in Velka Maca. The killings shocked Slovakia and sparked the country’s largest protests since the Velvet Revolution. The protests forced out former Prime Minister Robert Fico, as well as the country’s interior minister and chief of police, all of whom were viewed as bearing political responsibility.
While Kočner and Zsuzsová were initially acquitted, three other pepole were sentenced for their roles in the crime: gunman Miroslav Marček; getaway driver Tomáš Szabó; and middleman Zoltán Andruskó, who served as a key prosecution witness against Kočner and Zsuzsová. That outcome mirrors a global pattern: while hitmen are sometimes sentenced in journalist murder cases, the masterminds are almost never held to account.
Marian Kočner, whose not guilty verdict has just been overturned, us led away back into custody. pic.twitter.com/vp175xqQGh
— Scott Griffen (@scott_f_griffen) June 15, 2021
This statement by IPI ispart of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries.