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Police stand near the scene of the murders. Photo: VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP/Getty Images

The murders of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner over the weekend have sent shockwaves around Europe, and Slovak national police have now said their deaths were likely connected to Kuciak’s investigations into corruption in Slovakia. Axel Springer, publisher of the news portal Aktuality.sk where Kuciak worked, has also said the killings appear related to his work.

Why it matters: Slovakia, a member of the E.U. since 2004, has never managed to rid itself of the corruption that is the inevitable result of close ties between the politicians and tycoons who dominate much of the economy. Hostility toward the press by politicians has been rising and many observers say it was only a matter of time before a murder like this happened.

  • Press freedom is falling in Slovakia, where the oligarchs now own much of the media and the politicians have taken steps to weaken the press.
  • Prime Minister Robert Fico in November 2016 described several journalists as “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” after being quizzed about a corruption case.
  • Defamation in Slovakia is punishable by up to eight years in prison, making it the harshest penalty for this offense in the EU. Many legal actions against journalists have been brought by businessmen, politicians and judicial officials.
The latest
  • Kuciak, 27, was found along with his partner, Martina Kusnirova, shot dead at their home in the town of Velka Maca, 40 miles east of the capital Bratislava.
  • Kuciak’s last story, on February 9, looked at suspected tax fraud connected to a luxury apartment complex in Bratislava, known as the Five Star Residence.
  • The suspected use of the apartment complex to commit tax fraud prompted thousands of protesters to demonstrate last year calling for the resignation of the interior minister, Robert Kalinak, a close Fico ally, over his business dealings with its developer. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.
The bigger picture:

The situation for journalists working in Central and Eastern Europe has deteriorated over the last few years.

Reporters Without Borders highlighted in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index the danger of a tipping point in the state of media freedom, and noted that “media freedom has retreated wherever the authoritarian strongman model has triumphed”, particularly in Poland, Hungary, Russia and Turkey.

On February 16, a Turkish criminal court sentenced six journalists to life imprisonment for their alleged involvement in a 2016 coup attempt; Turkey has the highest number of journalists in prison in the world.

Go deeper

Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for health workers in 10 states

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A federal court in Missouri has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally-funded facilities in 10 states.

Why it matters: Monday's decision is the first victory for opponents of the rule, which requires health care workers to get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. The case is one of four lawsuits challenging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) rule and argues that the mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages.

Twitter's next act

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is exiting the company he helped build at a time when its future has never been so uncertain.

Why it matters: The person who controls Twitter controls the de facto public square — with implications for politics, media and free speech.

53 mins ago - Health

CDC strengthens COVID booster recommendation

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its previous recommendation for booster shots, saying that everyone 18 and older "should" receive a booster dose.

Why it matters: Last month, CDC director Rochelle Walensky accepted a key advisory committee's recommendation that adults "may" get the shot. The slight, but strengthened, change in wording comes amid the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.