Journalists in Bulgaria and around the world were shocked on October 8 to learn of the brutal rape and murder of 30-year-old Viktoria Marinova, one of the country’s new generation of upcoming investigative reporters.

Marinova’s body was found on October 7 in Ruse, a small city some 300 kilometers northeast of the capital Sofia, near the border with Romania. Bulgaria’s prosecutor, Georgy Georgiev, said Marinova had suffered severe blows to the head and was later suffocated after being brutally raped by an unknown number of attackers. Georgiev added that when her body was found in a park, Marinova’s mobile phone, car keys, eyeglasses, and some of her clothes were missing, adding that she had died “of a combination of trauma to her head and asphyxiation.”

Interior Minister Mladen Marinov confirmed that she had been raped prior to being killed by her attackers. Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, told journalists that DNA samples had been recovered from the location where Marinova’s body was found and that an investigation had been launched to determine if Marinova had been the victim of a premeditated crime.

The OSCE’s Committee to Protect Journalists in Brussels released a statement from its Brussels representative, Tom Gibson, called on Bulgaria’s investigative authorities to employ “all of their efforts and resources to carry out an exhaustive investigation into what happened (to Marinova) and bring to justice those responsible.”

Marinova had come to the public’s attention over the last year after the veteran TV journalist moved away from her job as a lifestyle reporter to host a popular investigative television programme known as Detector, which focused much of its attention on corruption cases.

In her most recent broadcast, Marinova’s show alleged that dozens of private companies in Bulgaria have been misusing European Union funding for a number of illegal business schemes that potentially could be linked to the Bulgarian government.

Marinova had recently interviewed two investigative journalists, Dimitar Stoyanov and Attila Biro,  both of whom were arrested on September 13, while in the process of carrying out their corruption investigation.

The two journalists had arrived at an undisclosed site while documents related to specific corruption cases were being shredded and were immediately arrested and detained by the police for more than an hour.

According to statements made by Stoyanov and Biro to the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Bulgaria’s anti-mafia police unit appears to intentionally fail to respond to tips that would lead to the arrest of individuals who are known violators to be involved in corrupt activities both in Bulgaria and abroad that includes major Bulgarian businesses and sitting politicians.

Viktoria Marinova seen rehearsing prior to her TV show, Detector.
Viktoria Marinova rehearsing prior to her TV show, Detector.

Bulgaria ranks 111th out of 180 countries on the 2018 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. The country ranked 87th in 2013. The Paris-based organisation has said that investigative journalists in Bulgaria often suffer physical assaults and intimidation.

Though the authorities have not been able to determine if Marinova’s murder is connected to her work as an investigative journalist, her death is the is the third high-profile female journalist to be killed in the European Union in the past year, and the fourth overall since early 2017.

In October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist who was looking into corruption in Maltese government and their efforts to sell EU passports to wealthy Russians who had links to the Kremlin was killed by a car bomb near her home in what was likely a hit ordered by the Sicilian mafia or those connected to her inquiries.

Her death came only three months after Swedish reporter Kim Wall was killed by eccentric Danish inventor Peter Madsen after she willingly boarded his homemade submarine to do an interview in Copenhagen in August 2017.  Madsen later sexually assaulted Wall and dumped her mutilated remains into the sea. The police later found Wall’s torso, head, legs, and clothing days later.

Several months after both Wall and Galizia were murdered, Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak and girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were gunned down in their home in the Slovak capital Bratislava after Kuciak uncovered evidence that Italian businessmen with ties to Calabria’s feared ‘Ndrangheta organised crime families had colluded with senior Slovak government officials – including close advisors to former Prime Minister Robert Fico,  had spent years embezzling EU funds that had been earmarked for projects on Slovakia’s border with Ukraine.