The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today welcomed news that Slovak police have charged the suspected mastermind of the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.

Marian Kočner, who is currently in detention on unrelated fraud charges, has been charged with ordering the February 21, 2018, double murder, which sparked the largest protests in Slovakia since the Velvet Revolution. Public speculation had focused on Kočner as the likely mastermind since the arrest last September of four individuals suspected of carrying out the crime.

During a meeting with IPI last month, representatives of Slovakia’s special prosecutor’s office said their main aim was to “identify and prove guilty” the person or persons who ordered the crime and that they were “very close” to announcing who this was.

“This development constitutes clear and significant progress toward achieving justice for Ján and Martina”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Holding masterminds of journalist killings accountable is very rare globally. And precisely for that reason, it is essential to stay vigilant. These charges are only the first step toward a conviction and prevent impunity. Authorities and the justice system must preserve the existing momentum.”

IPI Executive Board Vice Chair Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of the leading Slovak daily SME, added:

“Charging Marian Kočner is a ray of light that justice is not completely out of reach when it comes to killing journalists. But we are still on alert and watching whether the police is thoroughly investigating all possible related crimes. Moreover, without a change of the societal atmosphere where attacks against journalists are not tolerated the work is not done yet.”

IPI has travelled to Bratislava nearly a dozen times over the past year to fight against impunity for Kuciak’s murder. In November, IPI’s 24-member global Executive Board held its semi-annual meeting in Bratislava and carried out a solidarity visit to the memorial for Kuciak and Kušnírová there. The previous month IPI Executive Board Chair Markus Spillmann led an IPI delegation to meet with President Andrej Kiska. Last month, IPI met with prosecutors and Interior Ministry officials and joined a demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the murder.