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Monday Oct 08 2018

Bulgarian investigative journalist Marinova raped, killed: authorities

A video grab shows Bulgarian TV journalist Viktoria Marinova in Ruse, Bulgaria, October 7, 2018. via Reuters

SOFIA: A Bulgarian journalist who reported on an investigation into alleged corruption, involving European Union (EU) funds, has been murdered in the Danube town of Ruse, authorities said on Sunday, in a case that has shocked fellow journalists and sparked international condemnation.

Prosecutors in the Balkan country said that the body of 30-year-old Viktoria Marinova was found in a park in Ruse on Saturday. They identified her only by her initials.

“It is about rape and murder,” Interior Minister Mladen Marinov told reporters. He said there was no evidence to suggest the murder was related to Marinova’s work and there was no information that she had been threatened.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told reporters: “I am convinced it is a matter of time before the murder would be revealed. The best criminologists were sent to Ruse, let’s not press them. A large amount of DNA had been obtained.”

Police are expected to disclose more details on Monday.

“Her death was caused by blows to the head and suffocation, and her mobile phone, car keys, glasses and some of her clothing were missing,” Ruse regional prosecutor Georgy Georgiev said.

The death most probably occurred in broad daylight, he added.

Marinova, who was a board member of the Ruse-based TV station TVN — one of the most popular TV channels in northeastern Bulgaria — is the third journalist to have been murdered in the EU in a year.

Local media reported that Marinova had recently been involved in covering an investigation by a group of Bulgarian journalists into companies involved in EU-funded infrastructure projects administered by local authorities.

Marinova presented a current affairs talk programme called Detector for TVN. The programme had recently been relaunched.

The first episode of the show on September 30 broadcast interviews with investigative journalists Dimitar Stoyanov from the website and Attila Biro from the Romanian Rise Project, about an investigation into alleged fraud involving EU funds linked to big businessmen and politicians.

The pair were briefly detained by police while attempting to stop the destruction of documents linked to the scheme, drawing condemnation from Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), wrote on Twitter: "Shocked by horrific murder of investigative journalist Victoria Marinova in #Bulgaria. Urgently call for a full and thorough investigation. 

"Those responsible must be held to account."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was "shocked by the barbaric murder".

"Bulgarian authorities must employ all efforts and resources to carry out an exhaustive inquiry and bring to justice those responsible," said Tom Gibson, the CPJ's EU representative, in a statement.

Last October, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed when a powerful bomb blew up her car and Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was shot dead in February.

“With great pain and insurmountable grief the TVN’s team is experiencing the loss of our beloved colleague Victoria Marinova and we pray for sympathy to the sorrow of her relatives and colleagues,” TVN said in a short statement.

'Extreme sense of justice'

"We are in shock. In no way, under any form, never have we received any threats — aimed at her or the television," a journalist from TVN told AFP on the condition of anonymity, adding that he and his colleagues feared for their safety.

He described his colleague as "extremely disciplined, ambitious, always putting herself fully into what she is doing and a person with an extreme sense of justice". owner Asen Yordanov, however, told AFP that his media had received credible information that its journalists were in danger of being assaulted because of the investigation that also appeared on Marinova's show.

"Viktoria's death, the brutal manner in which she was killed, is an execution. It was meant to serve as an example, something like a warning," Yordanov added.

Bulgaria ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the RSF world press freedom index this year, lower than any other EU member and also lower than other countries in the western Balkans, some of which are candidates for EU membership.

In October 2017, hundreds of Bulgarian journalists protested in downtown Sofia downtown against threats from Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov against the country’s biggest broadcasters. He accused the mainstream media of leading a “massive smear campaign” against him.

Widespread corruption, shady media ownership, and suspected collusion between journalists, politicians, and oligarchs have made objective reporting a constant obstacle course, according to the RSF.

According to the Bulgaria-based Association of European Journalists, reporters from small regional and local media are particularly subjected to pressure from local businessmen and politicians and outright threats, often leading to self-censorship.

Violence against women has also been widespread in Bulgaria, with a number of brutal killings of women by their ex-boyfriends and -husbands causing an outcry in the media recently.

Condolences poured in on Facebook for Marinova who leaves behind a small child. A candlelight vigil in her memory will be held on Monday evening in both Ruse and the capital Sofia.

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