Rights groups appeal to the European Commission after Slovenian officials initiated a wave of threats and harassment targeting Zgaga. Ruling party supporters have since branded the journalist an "enemy of the state".
This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 20 April 2020.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and six other press freedom organisations urge the European Commission to do everything in its power to guarantee the safety of investigative journalist Blaž Zgaga and to ensure that death threats and attacks against him are treated with the utmost seriousness by the Slovenian authorities.
Vice-President Věra Jourová
Commissioner Didier Reynders
Rue de la Loi 200
Brussels, 17 April 2020
Dear Vice-President Jourová,
Dear Commissioner Reynders,
On behalf of the undersigned organisations, I’m writing to draw your attention to the case of Blaž Zgaga, a respected investigative journalist and Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent in Slovenia.
Mr. Zgaga has received death threats following a freedom of information request made to the Secretary-General of the Government regarding the operations and structure of the newly-founded Crisis Headquarters of the Republic of Slovenia (Krizni štab Republike Slovenije), which is in charge of combatting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Instead of a standard response, his request was met with a troubling retweet, by the official account of the Crisis Headquarters, of an anonymous tweet which asserted that Mr. Zgaga was one of « 4 patients who escaped from quarantine »; and were suffering from « a Covid-Marx/Lenin virus »; – a transparent allusion to his history of criticizing the far-right ruling party, Slovenska demokratska stranka (SDS).
In addition to this defamatory attack, the SDS-owned media outlet Nova24TV initiated a smear campaign against the journalist, with an article depicting him as a « ‘pseudo-’ journalist of the deep state […] fearful of losing [his] privileges ».
Unfortunately, this attack was not isolated, as SDS-owned weekly magazine Demokracija joined the smear campaign against Mr. Zgaga by publishing the same article and targeting him simply for doing his job as a journalist. Even more concerning are the death threats he is now receiving from anonymous internet users, calling for him to «literally be shot! ».
We fear for his life after supporters of the Slovenian government declared him an enemy of the State.
Mr. Zgaga is a respected investigative journalist, who has worked for Slovenia’s main newspapers and whose articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Observer and The Globe among other renowned publications. He is a member of the prestigious International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and his work has been recognised, including with a New York Press Club Award for Journalism.
On 23 March 2020, we wrote a letter to the Slovenian Minister of the Interior to urge him to guarantee Mr Zgaga’s safety, but it remains unanswered.
This is why we now turn to you.
Despite the unprecedented context in which Slovenia and other countries currently find themselves, the Covid-19 crisis shouldn’t be an excuse to prevent journalists from doing their job. Journalistic reporting is vital for our societies, especially at this time, in the midst of a health crisis where false information spreads very quickly. Slovenian authorities have a responsibility to protect the press, to ensure journalists are able to report independently, as well as to guarantee free and open access to information.
We call on you to remind the Slovenian government that freedom of expression and information are fundamental European values and should be respected.
We urge you to do everything in your power to guarantee Mr. Zgaga’s safety and to ensure the death threats and attacks against him are treated with the utmost seriousness by the Slovenian authorities.
Worryingly, Mr. Zgaga is not the only journalist who has been threatened since Prime Minister Janša took office earlier this year. In March, after she tweeted a joke about the Prime Minister, Klara Širovnik, a journalist with the national daily Večer, was targeted by Nova24TV in an article published online. She subsequently received a tremendous number of anonymous threats, including many rape threats.
The public broadcaster Radiotelevizija Slovenija (RTVS) has also been facing verbal and physical threats. In late March, Mr. Iztok Mori, the head of the Velenje municipal administration verbally attacked RTVS journalists. The Prime Minister himself has gone after the public media outlet on several occasions, accusing it of spreading lies about the government, and issuing a veiled threat over its funding after he called the broadcaster’s teams “overpaid” on Twitter. On 31 March, following Mr. Janša’s tweet, an unknown perpetrator threatened an RTVS news team and damaged their vehicle; another RTVS team was verbally assaulted the next day while recording a street interview in Maribor. The Prime Minister also called the Slovenian News Agency (STA) a « fan of fake news » after the agency published our letter.
It is for all these reasons that RSF is joined by the six organisations below in asking that you put pressure on the Slovenian government.
I remain at your disposal for any further information and look forward to hearing from you.
Julie Majerczak for Reporters without Borders
List of signatories
-European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
-European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
-Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
-Index on Censorship
-International Press Institute (IPI)
-Reporters without Borders (RSF)