SOFIA (Reuters) - A Bulgarian man has been detained in Germany over the rape and murder of television journalist Viktoria Marinova, officials said on Wednesday, as Prime Minister Boyko Borissov defended his government’s record on press freedoms.
The suspect was identified by Bulgarian authorities as Severin Krasimirov from Ruse, Marinova’s hometown where her body was found in a park near Danube River last Saturday. Krasimirov, who lived near the park, left the country on Sunday, they said.
Bulgaria has charged him in absentia with rape and premeditated murder with extreme cruelty and Germany was expected to extradite him for trial in Bulgaria, Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said.
German authorities confirmed a 20-year old suspect had been arrested in Stade at the home of relatives’ on Tuesday night and was due to be brought before a magistrate on Wednesday.
Marinova, a 30-year-old presenter on a local TV station with a 7-year-old daughter, had been raped, beaten and suffocated, police said.
On her last TV show, on Sept. 30, Marinova introduced two journalists who were investigating suspected corruption involving EU funds and said her own show, “Detector”, on local television station NTV, would carry out similar investigations.
No link has been established between the crime and Marinova’s work so far.
But her murder has all the same revived the debate over the extent of press freedom in Bulgaria and the rights of journalists to pursue investigative reporting.
Bulgaria ranked 111 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index this year, lower than any other European Union member.
Borissov, speaking at a news conference, criticized people who he said had rushed to mention Bulgaria in the same breath as Malta and Slovakia, where journalists had been killed recently for their work.
He said journalists in Bulgaria had “total freedom to write and report on any topic” and he decried pressure on the authorities from abroad over the murder. He had summoned foreign ambassadors to Sofia to brief them over the investigation.
“We have done all this work in the frame of three days. In the frame of three days I read monstrous things about Bulgaria and none of it is true,” he said.
Chief Prosecutor Tsatsarov told the news conference that he could not say at this stage if the murder was linked to Marinova’s work as a journalist. The collected evidence so far pointed to a spontaneous attack and sexual assault, he said.
Ivan Stefanov, the NTV channel producer who worked with Marinova on her on “Detector” show said he did not think the murder was linked to her work and that neither of them had received any threats.
“We are full of grief, pain and anger, but also with a determination to continue her work,” he told Reuters.
Colleagues spoke of her charitable work and commitment to social causes such as support for disabled and disadvantaged children.
“I remember how she tried to help everyone who is in trouble,” said Silva Agopian, an editor at NTV.
Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov in Sofia and Michelle Martin in Berlin; Editing by Richard Balmforth