The murders of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee last weekend have sparked outrage in Slovakia. An EU delegation is set to travel to Bratislava in the coming days to investigate the incident.
Slovak authorities have released seven men detained in connection with the murder of a local journalist, a police spokeswoman said Saturday.
Police arrested the suspects — aged between 26 and 62 — on Thursday as part of their probe into the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. Kuciak and his fiancee were shot dead in their home last weekend.
"During the legal timeframe — 48 hours — [police] checked and searched for facts needed for an indictment. After the 48 hours passed, the persons were released from detention," police spokeswoman Denisa Baloghova said in a statement.
Kuciak was working on a story that tied together Mafia-linked Italian businessmen and politicians, including some reportedly close to Prime Minister Robert Fico. His story was published posthumously this past week. Kuciak is the first journalist to be murdered in Slovakia since the fall of communism in 1989.
Some 20,000 people took to the streets of the capital, Bratislava, and other cities across the country on Friday to demand government action in response to the killings that have shocked the country.
There have been anti-corruption protests in Slovakia before, but these appear to be far broader than anything the country has seen in the past, said Dagmar Kusa, a vice-chair of Slovakia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
"Kuciak's work resonated with a much larger segment of the population," Kusa told DW via email. "The anti-corruption marches last year drew thousands of young people ... the demonstrations yesterday took place simultaneously at 50 various destinations in Slovakia and abroad."
Plagued by corruption
Like other former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, Slovakia has been plagued by rampant corruption during the post-communist era, and Kusa said frustration has reached a boiling point.
"Anger and outrage came from all ages and segments of society," she said. "It was the largest such protest since November 1989 and many are adopting this parallel, sensing that Slovakia has come to a significant turning point."
Media watchdogs, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), are also criticizing Fico and other European leaders for their harsh rhetorical attacks against journalists.
Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of RSF, met with Fico on Friday. Afterward, he told the AFP news agency that some politicians had created an "appalling climate for journalists."
He added, "European leaders have a responsibility to defend journalism and not to weaken it."
In the past, Fico has called journalists "dirty, anti-Slovak whores." He has also referred to them as "plain, silly hyenas" and "slimy snakes."
Harlem Desir, the Freedom of the Media representative at the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was also in the meeting with Deloire and Fico.
He said: "We cannot accept crimes against investigative journalists to become the new normality in Europe."
The FBI, Britain's Scotland Yard and Europol are all assisting the Slovak police with their investigation.
According to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, an EU delegation will be traveling to Slovakia on Wednesday to gather information on the murder and examine the rule of law in Slovakia. The visit is scheduled to last until Friday, said German MEP Ingeborg Grassle.
av, bik/cmk (Reuters, AP, AFP)