Bratislava/Prague, May 16 (CTK) – Slovak detectives were questioning Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova, who cooperated with murdered Slovak reporter Jan Kuciak in an article about Italian mafia in Slovakia, on Tuesday and seized her mobile phone, Slovak daily Sme wrote today.
The phone also contained data on other sensitive cases that were not connected with Kuciak’s murder.
Holcova, director of the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism, refused to provide the codes for her mobile phone, but the police will try to unlock it, Sme writes.
The prosecutor’s office claims Holcova gave her phone to the police voluntarily, but she said she had done so under pressure.
“The investigators claim that her electronic communication may help reveal the murderer, but this explanation is unclear,” Sme writes.
“This was an eight-hour exhausting questioning. They did not explain to me thoroughly why they needed the phone,” Holcova told the paper.
“The questioning took place in Slovakia where I came voluntarily as a witness to help the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) clarify the murder of my colleague and friend Jan Kuciak. Only three Slovak police officers were present at the questioning,” Holcova told CTK today.
The police investigators asked her about Slovak VAT frauds and business activities of Marian Kocner (suspected of having threatened Kuciak), and when she answered she had not looked into these cases, they did not trust her, Holcova said.
She is represented in Slovakia by lawyer Roman Kvasnica, who is now examining whether the police and prosecutor’s office acted in compliance with law when seizing her mobile phone.
The Special Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Jana Tokolyova. said in reaction to this that Holcova had given her phone to the police voluntarily and that the investigators wanted it as possible evidence to help investigate a crime and did not intend to violate the journalist’s rights.
“They explained to me that I would either sign a document that I was giving them the phone voluntarily or would be fined with 1650 euros for not cooperating with the police and they would seize it from me,” Holcova told CTK.
“The police decision to seize a mobile phone from a journalist is surprising as journalists have the duty to protect their sources of information. This is why Holcova refused to release her phone codes and encryption applications to the police. Police will now try to unlock the protection,” Sme writes.
It admitted that police officers had acted per order of the Special Prosecutor’s Office, dealing with the most serious crimes, that supervised the investigation into Kuciak’s murder.
Sme stressed that the protection of information sources is crucial for journalistic work, which the European Human Rights Court explained in one of its key verdicts in 1996. However, the court has not yet dealt with a case in which the police attempted to gain journalists’ data in connection with the investigation into a murder case.
Holcova is a member of the Association of Investigative Journalists who analysed the Panama Papers implicating tax evasion and money laundering. It cooperates with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), for instance, in the cases of smuggling arms across Slovakia.
Exactly her colleagues from the OCCRP told Holcova, who had described the situation to them, that they had information about the Slovak police not cooperating in a standard way and sharing only the minimum information with the international team.
It seems as if political interests influenced the investigation into the double murder, the investigace.cz server cites OCCRP editor-in-chief Drew Sullivan as saying. He also said the organisation considered it unacceptable to seize a mobile phone from a journalist in the position of a witness three months after the murder.
Kuciak, who was shot dead with his fiancee in his home in west Slovakia in late February, wrote about the activities of Italian businesspeople in eastern Slovakia, who were linked to mafia, and about their ties to close aides to former PM Robert Fico (Smer-Social Democracy). The double murder provoked a political crisis that resulted in the resignation of Fico’s government and the formation of a new one.