Slovak culture minister Marek Madaric has resigned in the wake of the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée, killings that have sent shockwaves through the central European nation.
Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova were found dead on Sunday at their home 50km east of Bratislava, with Slovakia’s police chief saying the “most likely motive” was that the killings were related to Kuciak’s investigative work.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Madaric, a member of prime minister Robert Fico’s centre-left Smer-SD party which governs in coalition with two other groups, said his decision to step down was a personal one.
“The ministry of culture is closest to the media. After what has happened, I cannot imagine just sitting quietly in the minister’s chair,” Mr Madaric said. “As culture minister, I cannot identify with the fact that a journalist was killed during my tenure.”
The killing of the 27-year-old Kuciak — the first known killing of a journalist in Slovakia since the country of 5.4m people gained independence in 1993 — has roiled national politics and provoked outrage across the country.
Overnight, several Slovak media groups published the article that Kuciak, who worked for the website Aktuality.sk, was researching at the time of his death. The article, which was unfinished, alleges links between a member of the Italian mafia operating in eastern Slovakia and two people close to Mr Fico.
After the first reports appeared, Mr Fico dismissed them and told journalists not to link people to the crime without any evidence, adding that this was “crossing a line”. His spokeswoman added that the prime minister fully supports the investigation, and that if the killings turned out to be related to Kuciak’s work it would be a “direct attack against democracy and the freedom of the press”.
On Wednesday the two officials named in Kuciak’s last story, Maria Troskova, a former model who was chief state adviser in the government office, and Viliam Jasan, who served on Slovakia’s security council, both said that they would step down until the investigation into the killings was complete.
“The linking of our names with this foul crime by some politicians or the media is absolutely over the line. We categorically reject any connection with this tragedy,” they said in a statement, adding that their names were being abused in a “political struggle” against Mr Fico.
Slovakia’s police chief, Tibor Gaspar, said on Tuesday that police were working on various hypotheses for the murders of Kuciak and Kusnirova, and that they had interviewed about 20 people. He added that Slovakia had been in contact with both Italy and the Czech Republic in relation to the investigation.
Mr Fico’s government has promised a reward of €1m for information that leads to the killers, and he and interior minister Robert Kalinak have also met with the editors-in-chief of 19 media organisations to reassure them of the government’s commitment to the freedom of the press.
Hundreds of people took part in an opposition protest in the capital on Wednesday calling for the resignation of Mr Gaspar and Mr Kalinak. Student groups have called for marches on Friday in a number of cities across Slovakia to honour Kuciak.
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