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EU Member States Probe 2 High-Profile Murders Of Journalists

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Originally published on October 11, 2018 11:14 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The European Union considers itself a haven for journalists who are persecuted in other countries. But in the last year, the 28-member bloc has faced the murders of two investigative journalists within its own borders. So when the host of a TV show spotlighting corruption was found raped and murdered in Bulgaria last weekend, EU leaders demanded an investigation. Joanna Kakissis reports from Ruse, Bulgaria, where the murder took place.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: TV host Victoria Marinova told friends last Saturday that she was going jogging. A few hours later, her body was found in a wooded park along the Danube River. She had been beaten, raped and suffocated. Retired ironworker Jordan Nikolav told police he'd seen a man running away from the scene that day.

JORDAN NIKOLAV: (Through interpreter) It's not a secluded place. On most days, I see people here every day. Now they stay away because of her murder.

KAKISSIS: Marinova was well-known in this lush, scenic city of about 150,000 people. She was the young, driven star of a local private channel run by her ex-husband, Svilen Maximov.

SVILEN MAXIMOV: She wouldn't be satisfied just to find out the truth and bring it to the public. She wanted to change stuff.

KAKISSIS: Maximov had wanted her to host a fashion program, but she refused. She was interested in social inequality and corruption, so she created an in-depth news program called "Detektor."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DETEKTOR")

VICTORIA MARINOVA: (Speaking Bulgarian).

KAKISSIS: The first story she featured was about Bulgarian politicians and businessmen misusing European Union funds. It was a joint report by independent journalists in Romania and Bulgaria. Her producer Ivan Stefanov anticipated backlash.

IVAN STEFANOV: I said to Victoria, are you sure that you want to release this?

KAKISSIS: When Marinova turned up murdered, Stefanov says an international press group offered to evacuate him out of Bulgaria.

STEFANOV: I said that I will not go out. I will stay here because we must not afraid.

KAKISSIS: Press groups say journalists are vilified everywhere. Ernest Sagaga of the International Federation for Journalists (ph) told the TV network Euronews that they're increasingly targeted and murdered all over the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF EURONEWS BROADCAST)

ERNEST SAGAGA: And the only difference between the other parts of the world and Europe is that you could actually find a stronger political will in the EU to fight against these kinds of crimes and also the ability of their institutions to investigate these crimes.

KAKISSIS: Authorities in EU member states are currently investigating two high-profile murders of journalists. Both were investigating corruption. Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiance were both shot dead in February in their home in southwestern Slovakia. Three people were recently charged in the murders. And almost a year ago, in the EU's smallest member state, the island nation of Malta, investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown up in a car bomb. The mastermind is still at large. Caruana Galizia's son Matthew, who is also an investigative journalist, describes the dangers in reporting on corruption.

MATTHEW CARUANA GALIZIA: Every journalist who's investigating corruption over long periods of time and gets really deep into a story, they all fear for their lives at some point - every one. It's the most dangerous thing to cover in journalism, more dangerous than war even.

KAKISSIS: It's still not clear why the Bulgarian TV host Victoria Marinova was murdered, though police say the evidence so far indicates she just may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. They say they have enough proof to charge a 21-year-old Bulgarian man with a criminal record for the murder. He fled to Germany and was arrested there. Marinova's ex-husband, Svilen Maximov, lights a candle at a memorial for her near a fountain. He says he trusts the authorities.

MAXIMOV: From the facts that we see right now, it was a coincidence. But it's also obvious that journalists in Europe have been murdered. And there is a problem, and we have to deal with it.

KAKISSIS: He wants European leaders to keep pushing for press freedom.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Ruse, Bulgaria.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMON TOBIN'S "EASY MUFFIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.