Murder of Bulgarian Journalist Is the Latest Blow to Press Freedom

The murder of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinovais is the latest in an alarming series of attacks that have been perpetuated against journalists and media outlets around the world.

Sofia: A Bulgarian man has been detained in Germany and charged with the rape and murder of television journalist Viktoria Marinova, Bulgarian officials said on Wednesday.

The suspect, who was identified as 21-year-old Severin Krasimirov, was arrested on Tuesday at the request of Bulgaria, Interior Minister Mladen Marinov told reporters at a briefing attended by Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Bulgarian authorities were expecting Germany to transfer him to their territory, Marinov said.

The body of the 30-year-old Bulgarian journalist, who police said had been raped, beaten and suffocated, was found on Saturday.

Viktoria Marinova had recently reported on alleged fraud involving European Union funds. On her last TV show, on Sept. 30, Marinova introduced two journalists who were investigating suspected corruption involving EU funds and said her own show, “detector”, on local television station NTV, would carry out similar investigations.

Her death has angered many in Bulgaria, where people are frustrated with corruption and an inefficient judiciary that has been criticised by the European Commission.

Chief prosecutor Tsatsarov told the news conference that he could not say at this stage if the murder was linked to Marinova’s work as a journalist. The collected evidence so far pointed to a spontaneous attack and sexual assault, he said.

“We have collected a lot of evidence which for the time being suggests that the person is guilty. He has been charged in absence for two crimes – rape and premeditated murder with extreme cruelty,” Tsatsarov said. “We cannot state at this point that her murder is linked to her professional activity. We are continuing to work on all possible options.”

Global threat to journalists safety

The Marinova’s murder is the second attack on a journalist in the past one month itself. Last week, prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was reported missing after entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul and is presumed to have been killed, according to two Turkish sources.

Her murder is also the third in a European Union country within a year. Last October, Daphne Caruana Galizia, one of Malta’s best-known investigative journalists, was killed when a powerful bomb blew up her car. Earlier, in February 2018, Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were shot dead as Kuciak was investigating fraud involving businessmen with Slovak political ties, and suspected mafia links of Italians with businesses in Slovakia. In August 2017, Swedish freelance journalist Kim Wall was reported missing and found murdered in October when she was researching a story on Danish inventor Peter Madsen.

Amidst the global rise of right-wing populism, the clampdown on journalists and press freedom is increasingly worrying. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has estimated that around 57 journalists were killed in 2018 alone, while an additional 155 journalists are currently imprisoned around the world. The RSF World Press Freedom Index also states that there is a “growing animosity towards journalists. Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies”.

Last month, a court in Myanmar found two Reuters journalists guilty of breaching a law on state secrets and jailed them for seven years, a decision which was defended by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Neighbouring Bangladesh has also arrested several journalists and activists, including Shahidul Alam, a prominent social activist and photographer, who was charged under a controversial section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology law that carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. Bangladesh has also enacted the draconian Digital Security Act in another bid to stifle free speech and press freedom by the Sheikh Hasina led government.

US President Donald Trump is also spearheading the denigration of media outlets, accusing the US press of being an “enemy of the American people.” His repeated attacks on the media’s credibility and legitimacy have wide-ranging and dangerous implications for the safety of journalists and press freedom. In August, the UN expert on free expression condemned the president’s dangerous rhetoric and said it was eroding public trust in the media and could spark violence against journalists. Donald Trump has further empowered a global war of attrition against activists and journalists, which is setting an alarming trend for press freedom in the world.

(With inputs from Reuters)