Police in Slovakia must thoroughly investigate a possible death threat issued against an investigative reporter at Slovak online news outlet Aktuality.sk, the International Press Institute (IPI) said today.
On the morning of Thursday, June 25, Aktuality investigative journalist Peter Sabo awoke to find a pistol bullet in the mailbox of the Bratislava apartment where he lives with his wife, according to the outlet’s editor and media reports.
Aktuality is the online newspaper that Slovak investigative reporter Ján Kuciak worked for before he was shot and killed alongside his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, in 2018. The murder weapon was a pistol.
“We welcome the prompt investigation opened by the Slovak police and urge them to work tirelessly to identify those responsible for planting the bullet, and who ordered them to do so. Authorities must also ensure that necessary measures are put in place to protect Sabo’s safety”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This kind of intimidation must be taken seriously. Threats against Aktuality journalists were not properly investigated in the past, with tragic consequences. Slovak authorities should not make the same mistake again.”
The editor-in-chief of Aktuality, Peter Bárdy, told IPI while the cartridge could have been placed as a prank, he believed the intimidation was likely related to the journalist’s work investigating “sensitive topics” including tax fraud and crime groups.
“I would very much like to believe that it was a joke of a child, but after the experience of more than two years ago, I know that if it is not a joke, it can kill”, Bárdy wrote in an editorial. “If they think they will intimidate us, they are wrong.”
Bárdy told IPI that police were informed immediately as well as the Minister of the Interior, Roman Mikulec, and Police President Milan Lučansk.
A report was submitted by Sabo to the local police station and several steps have been taken to protect the reporter’s safety. Aktuality is in close contact with police and investigators.
Sabo, 31, joined the newspaper months after Kuicak’s murder in 2018 with the aim of continuing the young journalist’s investigations. He first worked as a data analyst and soon began writing about issues such as international tax fraud and local crime rings.
Recently, he had covered drug crime, the completion of a power plant, and cases involving the former Justice Minister Gábor Gál. This was the first threat issued against Sabo. No other message or sign was left in the mailbox.
The incident has uncomfortable parallels with the murder of Kuciak, who had also been investigating alleged corruption and had received several threats due to his work before his murder on February 21, 2018.
In April 2020, former solider Miroslav Marček was sentenced to 23 years in prison after he plead guilty to shooting Kuciak and Kušnírová at their home they shared in Velka Maca. A second defendant in the case, Zoltán Andruskó, admitted to helping arrange the murder and was sentenced to 15 years in December.
Three persons remain on trial, including Tomáš Szabó, Marček’s cousin and the alleged getaway driver, and Alena Zsuzsová, a suspected middlewoman.
The third defendant is Marian Kočner, a well-known businessman, who is charged with ordering Kuciak’s killing as retaliation for his journalistic work.
IPI has closely followed the murder investigation, travelling to Slovakia on dozens of occasions to push for justice in the case. In January and February IPI attended trial hearings in person.
This statement by IPI is part 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.