WARSAW — When the physique of a 30-year-old lady, bruised, crushed and raped, was found on Saturday in a park within the metropolis of Ruse in northeastern Bulgaria, the grisly crime scene surprised a nation the place corruption is endemic however homicide is comparatively uncommon.
The sufferer was recognized on Sunday as Viktoria Marinova, a journalist who was the host of a brand new discuss present referred to as “Detector” that supplied a venue for investigative reporters, and nationwide shock over her brutal demise rapidly unfold to worldwide concern.
Though there was some disagreement in regards to the extent of Ms. Marinova’s function in investigating corruption, the questions surrounding her demise mirrored the tense ambiance for journalists within the area: Two reporters within the European Union — Jan Kuciak in Slovakia and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta — have been killed previously 12 months due to the work they had been doing to show graft on the highest ranges of presidency.
Bulgarian officers condemned the assault on Ms. Marinova, however they had been additionally insistent that there was nothing to recommend that she had been killed due to her work. They mentioned there was no proof that she had been threatened, and famous that her automobile keys, her cellphone and elements of her clothes had been lacking.
“It’s about rape and homicide,” Inside Minister Mladen Marinov mentioned, a viewpoint that was shared by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov.
“The perfect criminologists had been despatched to Ruse, let’s not press them,” Mr. Borisov mentioned. “A considerable amount of DNA has been obtained.”
Ms. Marinova was final seen alive Saturday morning, when she had espresso with associates after which went for a run alongside the Danube River.
The prosecutor normal, Sotir Tsatsarov, advised reporters in Ruse on Monday that nothing could be dominated out, however he additionally mentioned that it was unlikely the killing was linked to her work.
“The speculation about linking the homicide to her work and the matters she coated in her program will not be a number one one,” he mentioned, refusing to supply extra particulars in regards to the persevering with investigation.
Nonetheless, some European Union lawmakers and press freedom advocates had been hesitant to just accept the federal government’s suggestion that Ms. Marinova’s work was coincidental to her demise.
“These accountable should be held to account,” Harlem Desir, a consultant for media freedom on the Group for Safety and Cooperation in Europe, wrote on Twitter, urging a full investigation.
The brutal crimes shook Ruse, the place murders are uncommon. There have been solely 5 murders final 12 months within the small metropolis of about 150,000. Throughout Bulgaria, which has a inhabitants of a bit of greater than 7 million, the police reported 260 killings.
In 2016, there have been 1.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Bulgaria. In the US, the homicide price in 2016 was 5.three per 100,000.
Bulgaria has been ranked among the many most corrupt nations within the European Union and among the many worst by way of press freedom. Greater than 10 years after becoming a member of the bloc, it has reported solely restricted progress in turning the tide towards graft.
The Middle for the Research of Democracy, based mostly within the capital, Sofia, outlined in a report final 12 months a portrait of a state so riddled with graft that one in 5 adults, or 1.three million folks, had been thought to have taken half in a corrupt transaction, resembling paying or receiving a bribe.
A 2016 report from the analysis group RAND Europe estimated that yearly, the nation loses $7 billion to $12 billion due to corruption — a fifth of its gross home product.
On the identical time, the variety of impartial media retailers reporting on corruption has fallen. The Union of Publishers in Bulgaria, in a report issued in May, found that “growing collusion between publishers, oligarchs and political parties during the past decade has resulted in a major decline in the press freedom.”
Teodor Zahov, the organization’s president, said in a statement that, “The pressure on independent media has been systematic for the past 10 years.”
“It is so sophisticated and lacking in transparency that some people don’t understand it and others don’t believe it,” he said.
In that dismal environment, international concern over Ms. Marinova’s killing — particularly in the European Union, which has prided itself on its support for press freedom — was swift to develop.
“We need to find out quickly whether the murder is connected with Marinova’s research into the misuse of E.U. funds,” said Sven Giegold, a German member of the European Parliament. “Freedom of the press is in acute danger in Europe if research into corruption ends in death.”
The killings of Mr. Kuciak in Slovakia and Ms. Caruana Galizia in Malta caused alarm across the Continent, coming at a time when a new brand of professed populist leaders in the region have used increasingly caustic language to attack reporters, especially those probing corruption.
In February, the 27-year-old Mr. Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, also 27, were shot dead after he began digging into connections between top government officials and organized crime. The police have said the killings were connected to Mr. Kuciak’s work, and they recently arrested several people suspected of involvement, including one man the authorities believe was a paid hit man. He was identified last week as Tomas Szabo, a former police officer who spent nine years on the force but who was reportedly having financial difficulties.
Prosecutors said Mr. Szabo and his accomplices were paid “at least 70,000 euros,” or about $80,000, for the killing of Mr. Kuciak. They believe his fiancée was not targeted but was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The authorities in Slovakia say they have narrowed the list of those suspected of ordering the killing but declined to offer any details while the investigation was in progress, noting that the plot may have also involved targeting a high-ranking prosecutor involved in prosecuting corruption.
Public anger over the death of Mr. Kuciak led to large protests and ultimately forced the prime minister, Robert Fico, to resign.
Mr. Kuciak’s murder came several months after one of Malta’s best-known investigative journalists, Ms. Caruana Galizia, 53, was killed when a bomb blew up her car. She was also looking into allegations of money laundering and fraud among the country’s business and political elite. Three men were arrested and accused of planting the bomb.
But that investigation appears to be stalled and there has been no public comment on who might have ordered the killing.
The first episode of Ms. Marinova’s program aired on Sept. 30 and featured two investigative journalists — Dimitar Stoyanov from the Bivol.bg website and Attila Biro from the Romanian Rise Project — discussing their investigation into allegations of fraud involving European Union funds linked to prominent businessmen and politicians in Bulgaria.
Follow Marc Santora on Twitter: @MarcSantoraNYT.
Boryana Dzhambazova contributed reporting from Sofia, Bulgaria; and Miroslava Germanova from Bratislava, Slovakia.