The murder of Dutch crime journalist is ‘latest episode’ in deadly European series

Following the news that Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries has died after being shot in the head on 6 July, leading voices from the media world have condemned what appears to be a trend in targeting journalists who unearth criminality.

Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, called his murder “the latest episode in a deadly series in Europe”. He said organised crime poses a major threat to journalism across the bloc.

“This gangland-style ‘hit’ follows three other murders in Europe in which organised crime is also suspected.” He referred to the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 and the murder of Giorgos Karaivaz in Greece earlier this year.

“Europe is failing to protect its journalists,” Deloire added.

De Vries, the Netherland’s most renowned investigative journalist, was shot five times including once in the head while leaving a TV studio in Amsterdam. He was rushed to hospital in critical condition where he remained, fighting for his life for nine days.

During his career,  he had investigated more than 500 murders and played a role in solving a number of ‘cold cases. He had been the recipient of multiple threats against his life, including those from Willem Holleeder, the “Heineken Kidnapper” who was convicted in 2013.

He also reported receiving threats from Ridouan Taghi who was on trial for drug trafficking and murder in 2019. De Vries was acting as counsel to a witness who was testifying against Taghi. The witness’s previous lawyer had been shot dead in Amsterdam in September 2019.

His family released a statement today stating that “Peter fought to the end but was unable to win the battle”.  They said he passed away surrounded by the people that love him. “Peter has lived by his conviction: On bended knee is no way to be free,’” they added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her condolences to his family and loved ones and spoke of the importance of protecting journalists.

The International Press Institute noted it was “another heartbreaking moment for Europe’s journalistic community”. The organisation pointed out it was the second time this year that a journalist has been gunned down in broad daylight, within EU borders.

Maltese MEP David Casa condemned the attack and called for action to safeguard journalism in Europe.

Belgian Member of European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, called him a  “fearless journalist and fighter for the truth”. He added it was a blatant attack on those who dare to challenge organised crime.

Over the last four years, four journalists have been murdered in the EU.

In October 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in Malta. In February 2018, Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiance were murdered near Bratislava. And Greek journalist Giorgos Karivaz was gunned down outside his house in Athens in April.

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation said in a statement that Peter de Vries’ murder is shocking and deeply disturbing. “That this happened in one of the highest-ranking European countries for press freedom is a grim reminder that preventive action across Europe is even more urgent than ever.”

In 2017, Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family warned her assassination had set a new standard of permissible behaviour within the EU, and that others would soon die if decisive action isn’t taken. As with other journalists who have been killed since, Peter de Vries’ life could have been saved.

“The murder of a journalist has grave implications beyond the personal loss. Mr de Vries investigated and reported on organised crime and is likely its victim. Law enforcement is now faced with having to bring criminals to justice for murder when their primary witness is dead,” the Foundation said, stressing that authorities across Europe need to act with urgency.

“De Vries’ assassins and the murder masterminds must be swiftly brought to justice, and transnational preventive systems must be put into place to ensure that no journalists are ever killed again. Journalism is essential to our democracies. It should not be a death sentence.”

                           
                               
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