Press freedom

Arrest made in brutal rape and murder of 30-year-old reporter investigating government corruption

A journalist who worked to expose government corruption was brutally raped and killed over the weekend in the city of Ruse, Bulgaria, a shocking crime that government officials are insisting was unconnected to her work. Viktoria Marinova, 30, was the host of a new talk show called Detector, which featured reports by investigative journalists on the endemic corruption in the country. The first episode of the program, which aired on September 30, highlighted an investigation into allegedly fraudulent appropriation of European Union funds by prominent politicians and businessmen in Bulgaria. Bulgarian officials condemned the killing, but have repeatedly refuted any suggestion that her death was anything other than a random targeting. On Wednesday officials said they had taken a suspect into custody, whom they say left DNA evidence at the crime scene and on Marinova’s body and clothes, according to USA Today.

Police arrested a man named Severin Krasimirov, 21, who had fled to Germany, where he was apprehended. Authorities say he has a record of committing petty crimes. A Romanian man who had been arrested in Bulgaria in connection with the brutal crime, has been released.

“It is about rape and murder,” said Interior Minister Mladen Marinov.

“The best criminologists were sent to Ruse, let’s not press them,” added Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, echoing Marinov’s opinion. Prosecutor general Sotir Tsatsarov went still further, suggesting that “the hypothesis about linking the murder to her work and the topics she covered in her program is not a leading one.”

Not everyone was convinced by the government’s insistence that Marinova’s work had nothing to do with her death. Ruse, a city of 150,000, saw only five murders total all of last year. And corruption is so endemic in the country that one in five Bulgarian adults are believed to have either given or taken a bribe, according to the Bulgaria-based Center for the Study of Democracy. Despite the apparent prevalence of corruption, reporting on the issue has been on the decline — a trend that a May report from The Union of Publishers in Bulgaria attributed to “growing collusion between publishers, oligarchs and political parties during the past decade [that] has resulted in a major decline in the press freedom.”

“We need to find out quickly whether the murder is connected with Marinova’s research into the misuse of E.U. funds,” said European Parliament member Sven Giegold of Germany. “Freedom of the press is in acute danger in Europe if research into corruption ends in death.” Meanwhile, mourners have been paying tribute to Marinova with candlelight vigils.

Over the past year, at least two other reporters involved in investigating corruption in the Eurozone have been murdered in retaliation. In February, Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were killed by gunfire in a murder that police say was connected to his work exposing the connections of top government officials to organized crime. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist who linked her country’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, in a corruption scheme she uncovered in documents leaked by the Panama Papers, was killed in a car bombing in October of last year.

Watch video coverage of the story below.

Read the full story at The New York Times and USA Today.

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