Authorities said the badly beaten body of 30-year-old Viktoria Marinova was found in a park in Ruse, a northern border city on the Danube river, on Saturday. She had recently covered suspected misuse of EU funds by businesses and local politicians.
Bulgaria’s government said there was no evidence the killing was linked to Ms Marinova’s work for local television station TVN, but her death has drawn international condemnation and press freedom campaigners have expressed fears of a cover up.
“Again a courageous journalist falls in the fight for truth and against corruption,” said Frans Timmermans, first vice-president of the commission. “Those responsible should be brought to justice immediately by the Bulgarian authorities.”
The commission said it expected “a swift and thorough investigation”, adding in a statement: “There is no democracy without a free press.”
Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said: “I am shocked by the horrific murder of investigative journalist Viktoria Marinova in Bulgaria.”
He urged authorities “to swiftly identify and bring to justice those responsible and to clearly determine whether this attack was linked to her work”.
Interior minister Mladen Marinov said on Sunday that investigators had no information to suggest the journalist had been threatened.
“It is about rape and murder,” he added.
Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov pledged it was “just a matter of time” before the journalist’s killers were caught.
He added: “The best criminologists were sent to Ruse, let’s not press them. A large amount of DNA had been obtained.”
Police were 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.
Ms Marinova, who was a mother, is the third journalist to have been murdered in the European Union in the past year.
She presented a current affairs programme, Detector, which on 30 September aired interviews with investigative journalists looking into alleged fraud involving EU funds, businesses and local politicians.
The journalists she interviewed, Dimitar Stoyanov from the Bivol.bg website and Attila Biro of the Romanian Rise Project, were briefly detained by police during their investigation as they attempted to prevent the destruction of documents.
Bivol.bg owner Asen Yordanov told AFP his website had received credible information that its journalists were in danger of being attacked because of the investigation featured on Ms Marinova’s programme.
Another journalist at TVN, where Ms Marinova was also a board member, said they had “never ... received any threats – aimed at her or the television station”.
The journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues now feared for their safety.
He described Ms Marinova as “extremely disciplined, ambitious, always putting herself fully into what she is doing and a person with an extreme sense of justice”.
In a short statement, TVN said: “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.”
Bulgaria ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) world press freedom index this year, lower than any other EU member or any country in the western Balkans.
Christophe Deloire, RWB’s secretary general, called for police protection for TVN journalists who had worked with Ms Marinova until the circumstances of her death were clear.
He urged authorities “to carry out a serious and thorough investigation to find the perpetrators of this heinous murder”.
Drew Sullivan, co-founder of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, said the EU should launch an independent probe into the killing.
He added: “Why do we keep leaving investigations to the very governments who the reporters are investigating when they are killed?”
Ms Marinova’s death comes nearly a year after Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed when a bomb blew up her car.
Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak was shot dead at his home in February after investigating suspected tax fraud linked to his country’s government.
In October 2017, hundreds of Bulgarian journalists protested in central Sofia over 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.
On Sunday, Turkey said it believed Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared last week, had been killed during a visit to his nation’s consulate.
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