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Thousands rally in Slovakia to mark the 2018 slayings of an investigative journalist and his fiancee


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Thousands rallied in dozens of cities and towns across Slovakia on Wednesday to mark the sixth anniversary of the slayings of an investigative journalist and his fiancee amid a wave of anti-government protests.

Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, both age 27, were shot dead at their home in the town of Velka Maca, east of Bratislava, on Feb. 21, 2018.

Three people received stiff prison terms for their roles in the killings, including former soldier Miroslav Marcek, who pleaded guilty to shooting them.

Marian Kocner, a businessman who had been accused of masterminding the killings, has been acquitted twice. Prosecutors have said they believe Kocner paid Marcek to carry it out.

The journalist's father, Jozef Kuciak, thanked people in the capital “for helping us in the fight for justice for our children.”

The killings prompted major street protests unseen since the 1989 anti-communist Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. The ensuing political crisis led to the collapse of a coalition government headed then by populist Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Fico returned to power last year after his leftist party Smer (Direction) won the Sept. 30 parliamentary election on a pro-Russia and anti-American platform.

Known for his tirades against journalists, Fico has said that a major television network, two nationwide newspapers and online news website Kucia were working for his enemies and said he won’t communicate with them.

“(Fico) again makes a target from journalists and threatens freedom of press,” Pavol Szalai of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders told the crowd in Bratislava.

“Despite those six years, we still can hear threats against journalists,” President Zuzana Caputova said earlier Wednesday after lighting a candle at a monument for the two in downtown Bratislava.

An open statement signed by editors in chief of a number of major Slovak newspapers and other media organizations said that “we will never be silent.”

Thousands of people have repeatedly taken to the streets across Slovakia recently to rally against Fico’s plan to amend the penal code and eliminate the office of the special prosecutor that deals with major crime and corruption.

The changes already approved by parliament also include a reduction in punishment for corruption and some other crimes, including the possibility of suspended sentences, and a significant shortening of the statute of limitations, including for rape and murder.

A number of people linked to the prime minister’s party, including lawmakers, face prosecution in corruption cases.

The legislation faced sharp criticism at home and abroad, and Caputova has challenged it at the Constitutional Court.