Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it limited access to information to press outlets critical of the government.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits the defamation of nationalities and race, punishable by up to three years in prison, and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes, which carry a prison sentence of six months to three years.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The prohibitions against defamation of nationalities and denial of the Holocaust and crimes committed by the fascist and communist regimes also applied to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals. According to media organizations, criminal libel provisions restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of media. In one instance, a Bratislava district court issued a preliminary measure in June ordering former presidential candidate Martin Dano to withdraw his online videos targeting investigative journalist and anticorruption NGO director Zuzana Petkova. The court ruled Dano’s videos incited hatred and defamed Petkova and other investigative journalists. Zuzana Petkova informed media outlets that Dano had not complied with the court decision. Appeal proceedings were pending.
The majority of media were privately owned or funded from private sources. Radio and Television Slovakia (RTVS) and the TASR news agency received state funding for specific programming. Observers expressed concern, however, about the increasing consolidation of media ownership and its potential long-term threat to press freedom. NGOs reported most of the country’s private media outlets, including television stations and print publications, were controlled by relatively few financial conglomerates or wealthy individuals.
Members of the cabinet intermittently refused to communicate with two major daily newspapers, claiming their reporting was biased and that the newspapers had refused to apologize for publishing information government officials claimed was untrue.
Violence and Harassment: In February 2018 investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were killed in their home. Kuciak regularly reported on allegations of high-level corruption and documented tax-fraud schemes. As of November authorities had arrested and indicted four suspects in the case, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was charged with ordering the killing. Nationwide public protests in 2018 following the killings prompted the resignation of then interior minister Robert Kalinak, then prime minister Robert Fico, and then police president Tibor Gaspar. Since the resignations, Fico on multiple occasions accused media outlets and NGOs of using the killings to foment a “coup.”
The investigation into the Kuciak murder led to allegations that Kocner and his collaborators conducted surveillance of selected investigative journalists, allegedly with the assistance of law enforcement. According to media reports, the investigation revealed that police representatives illegally accessed government databases to collect information on journalists and their family members. Information collected through surveillance and from state databases was allegedly used to intimidate individual journalists. Investigations into the surveillance and intimidation cases were pending (see section 4, “Corruption”).
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as criminal offenses. Media organizations criticized a criminal libel provision in the criminal code as restricting freedom of expression.
Financial elites targeted the press in several civil defamation lawsuits, which often required the press to pay large sums of money in penalties or legal costs. The International Press Institute Slovakia and other observers expressed concern this financial risk and the administrative burden of constantly contesting lawsuits could lead to media self-censorship. In December 2018 a trial court dismissed one of numerous libel lawsuits by financial group Penta Investment against daily newspaper DennikN over an article implying then prime minister Robert Fico accepted bribes from Penta leader Jaroslav Hascak through his personal assistant.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Police, however, monitored websites containing hate speech and attempted to arrest or fine the authors.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing some protection to refugees. Some organizations criticized the Migration Office for applying a restrictive asylum policy and granting asylum only in a very limited number of cases. As of August, for example, the government had received 108 asylum applications and granted asylum to three individuals. The government granted asylum to five individuals in 2018.
NGOs reported asylum seekers had only limited access to qualified, independent legal advice. The contract for legal assistance to asylum seekers did not cover asylum seekers in detention, so these persons could access free legal assistance only in the second, appellate-level hearing on their asylum application process. Migration Office staff allegedly endeavored to provide legal advice to some asylum applicants, even though they were also interviewing the asylum seekers and adjudicating their asylum applications.
There was no independent monitoring by local NGOs of access to asylum procedures on the country’s borders and only limited monitoring of access to asylum by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
In February a German court ruled that a Slovak government aircraft operated by the Ministry of Interior had been used to smuggle an abducted Vietnamese refugee claiming asylum in Germany out of the Schengen area in 2017. The court found that the asylum seeker, who was abducted by Vietnamese intelligence services in Berlin, was taken on board the Slovak government jet immediately following an official meeting in Bratislava between then Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak and the Vietnamese minister of public security, and subsequently flown to Moscow. Slovak NGOs criticized the Slovak interior ministry inspection service for terminating in August its investigation into alleged government involvement, ostensibly for a lack of evidence.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants from a safe country of origin or transit. The law requires authorities to ensure the well-being of individual asylum seekers is not threatened if deported to a non-EU “safe country.” Some observers criticized the Bureau of Border and Alien Police (BBAP) for lacking the information necessary to determine whether a country would be safe for persons facing deportation there.
Freedom of Movement: NGOs reported that BBAP unnecessarily detained migrants, including asylum seekers whom police believed made false asylum claims, and that police failed to adequately use alternatives to detention, such as supervised release or financial bonds. NGOs reported it was routine practice to issue detention orders and place asylum seekers with children in the immigration detention center in Secovce, where they often faced degrading treatment.
Access to Basic Services: NGOs reported schools generally did not make use of available government support for language and integration assistance for foreign students.
The human rights organization Marginal stated that integration of approved asylum seekers in the country was hampered by the absence of a comprehensive government-funded and -operated integration program. These services had to be provided by NGOs and funded through a patchwork of domestic and international sources.
Human rights organizations reported that asylum seekers placed in immigration detention did not have adequate access to quality healthcare, contributing to the spread of contagious diseases in detention facilities.
Durable Solutions: The Migration Office accommodated refugees processed at the UNHCR emergency transit center in Humenne for resettlement to a permanent host country. The refugees were moved to Slovakia from other countries due to security and humanitarian concerns. The center was permitted to accommodate up to 250 refugees at a time for up to six months.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary “subsidiary protection” to individuals who might not qualify as refugees but could not return to their home countries and granted it to 11 persons as of August. Subsidiary protection is initially granted for one year, with possible extensions. NGOs asserted this approach created uncertainty regarding the refugee’s status in the country and significantly hindered their integration prospects. There were reports persons granted subsidiary protection had only limited access to health care. The Ministry of Interior issued health coverage documentation directly to persons with subsidiary protection without clear explanation of benefits.