The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed alarm over Slovak authorities’ interrogation on Tuesday of Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcová during which police seized Holcová’s phone.
Holcová, the head of the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism, was summoned by police to Bratislava, ostensibly in order to provide information related to the February murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, with whom Holcová had collaborated to examine connections between the mafia and Slovak officials.
However, police then aggressively questioned Holcová for eight hours, including on matters not relevant to the murder investigation and that pertained to her journalistic work, according to sources with knowledge of the incident. Officials, without prior warning, demanded access to Holcová’s phone and eventually confiscated the device.
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen called on Slovak authorities to clarify the incident.
“The seizure of a journalist’s phone is a highly serious matter that endangers journalists’ fundamental right and duty to protect their sources”, he said. “Slovak authorities must clarify the reason behind this disturbing interrogation and confiscation and immediately return Ms. Holcová’s device.”
Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of the leading Slovak daily SME and a member of IPI’s Executive Board, echoed that statement.
“The ability to protect sources, who provide sensitive information often risking their jobs or safety, is a crucial part of the watchdog role of journalists”, Balogová remarked. “The Slovak police, by seizing the mobile phone of investigative reporter Paula Holcová, seriously weakened this ability. It sends out signals to trusted sources that their communication with the journalists is no longer safe.”
She added: “The police took the mobile phone in association with the investigation of the murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak, who in his stories indicated several police officials as suspects of corrupt conduct. There is a serious concern that these people now might use information from the mobile phone to influence the course of investigation.
Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, were found shot dead, execution-style, in their home in the town of Veľká Mača on February 25. Police immediately suspected that the murder was related to Kuciak’s work as an investigative journalism with the online news site Aktuality.sk.