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Washington Post reporter outraged that journalist’s phone was seized by Slovak police

The US daily says that seizing her phone was merely the latest attempt by Slovak authorities to harass those close to a reporter who was killed for doing his job.

Mobile phone, illustrative stock photo(Source: TASR)

The Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcová, close collaborator of murdered journalist Ján Kuciak, was invited to a hearing on May 15 by the National Criminal Agency (NAKA). The two journalists worked together on an unfinished story about the activities of the Italian mafia in eastern Slovakia, the Sme daily wrote.

She thought it would be a friendly conversation to help their investigation into the murder but when she arrived at the police station, the conversation turned into a hostile interrogation, as she described for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

Following the hearing, the police seized Holcová’s mobile phone, including the SIM card. The investigators claimed that her electronic communications could help reveal the murderer. However, the explanation was vague, according to Sme.

The Special Prosecutor's Office claims not to have “broken” into the data in her smartphone, but the US daily the Washington Post sees this as threatening to her and to the work of investigative journalists more generally.

Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who knows Holcová in person, slammed the Slovak police and prosecution bodies, as well as the state of freedom of the media in the country as a whole. The US reporter himself spent 544 days in a Tehran prison when reporting for the Washington Post.

Personal encounter

“I met Holcova last week; she and I were part of a panel discussion in Washington entitled A Deadly Calling, organized by the Helsinki Commission and designed to raise awareness of and address the assassinations of two investigative journalists in the European Union: Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta last October, and Kuciak in Slovakia this February,” Rezaian explains in his piece.

The panel included Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew – himself a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter – and Holcová, who worked closely with Kuciak to report on official corruption and the Slovakian government’s ties with organized crime. It was this reporting that, many believe, prompted the murders of Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, the Washington Post article continues.

“Our panel – which also included Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a watchdog group that tracks attacks on press freedom – offered an unvarnished look at the rising threats to freedom of expression around the world,” Rezaian wrote.

How have the investigative bodies erred?

Experts in Slovakia have expressed the opinion for Sme that the authorities should only be able to use information from Holcová’s phone that has to do with Kuciak’s murder. They should not be allowed to examine her whole phone and email communications. Sme also wrote that the way in which Holcová handed over her smartphone was strange and it is questionable as to what extent it was “voluntary”, as the Special Prosecutor's Office insists. Even if it is deemed voluntary, this does not mean that investigative bodies can search through her whole phone, including the archived documents.

Read also:Police seized the mobile phone of Kuciak’s colleague, without explanation

Rezaian contacted Holcová while reporting on the story but had to conduct the whole communication via email as her phone had not been returned to her as of May 15. He is calling on the Slovak authorities to give it back to her and let her work freely without any restrictions.

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