Bulgaria capitals

Bulgaria investigates wave of threats against journalists, activists and politicians

Sofia Municipal Court, Photo: Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office

The Sofia Prosecutor’s Office confirmed on January 12 that it was investigating several cases of threats and intimidation of opposition journalists, activists and politicians.

They concern journalist Atanas Tchobanov, activist and Sofia city councilor Boris Bonev, “We continue to change” MP ​​Hristo Petrov, as well as the new Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov.

The Sofia Prosecutor’s Office said the lack of support from other state institutions had so far hampered further progress.

“In order to preserve the safety of the persons concerned, the supervisory prosecutors requested information from the competent structures: the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police services, the State Security and the Military Intelligence Service, to find out if they had threat data. against them. Unfortunately, so far no response to our requests has been received, although the cases concern exported data on crimes that could affect the lives of Bulgarian citizens, ”said on Wednesday Nevena Zartova, from the prosecutor’s office of Sofia.

The growing attacks against media freedom in the country also reached parliament. b“In Bulgaria, unreformed special services often turn their backs on cases of organized crime and corruption. Investigative journalism remains the only way to investigate the ‘deep state’ ”, Bulgarian Democratic MP Zarko Marinov told parliament on Wednesday.

Marinov said threats against journalist Atanas Tchobanov should be “neutralized”. Chobanov said via his social media that he had been alerted from abroad to threats to his life.

“Last Friday at 12:05 pm, I received a call from a foreign government official who warned me that I was under immediate physical threat and that I should be alerted by law about it. said the threat is from Bulgaria but I am currently abroad. I immediately informed the Bulgarian [intelligence] services that were not aware of such a danger, ”he wrote.

After the Sofia prosecutor’s office began investigating the case, Chobanov later added that the threat most likely came from “the front row of parliament”.

A recent article on the bird.bg website, which he co-authored, examined the alleged links between oligarch Peevski, a predominantly ethnic member of the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, and American lobbyist Anthony Podesta, which has signed contracts worth nearly US $ 2 million with companies affiliated with Peevski. In 2021, Tchobanov was also involved in the leak of the “Pandora Papers”, which showed that Peevski had offshore assets.

On Monday, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms called on the authorities to investigate the legitimacy of Tchobanov’s claims.

On January 9, the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria, AEJ Bulgaria, called for a rapid investigation into the threats made against Chobanov and other journalists.

“Due to the nature of their work, which exposes corruption and irregularities, investigative journalists are in a vulnerable position and it is the responsibility of institutions to protect them from those who wish to suppress their voices,” a- he declared.

A day after Chobanov revealed the threats he was facing, activist Boris Bonev also said he had been alerted to a threat against him, this warning also coming from abroad.

Bonev runs an NGO called “Save Sofia” (Spasi Sofia), which focuses on preserving the Bulgarian capital and criticizes the legacy of the former ruling party GERB in Bulgaria and current Mayor of Sofia, Yordanka Fandakova.

“I always suspected that our fight for a brighter Sofia might irritate some dark and wealthy figures in Bulgaria,” wrote Bonev, who ran for the Sofia municipal elections in 2019 as an independent and won 10 , 77% of the votes. On January 10, the prosecution also opened an investigation into his allegations.

On December 14 last year, the prosecution also began investigating death threats against member and deputy of “We Continue the Change” and popular rapper Hristo Petrov, also known as Itzo Hazarta.

Earlier this month, in a speech in parliament, Petrov claimed he was intimidated, without providing much information about the threat. In December, the authorities were also informed of threats against Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov.

On January 12, the AEJ brought to light another case endangering freedom of expression in Bulgaria.

A decision by the Sofia City Court on January 8 ordered journalists Boris Mitov and Stoyana Georgieva, editor-in-chief of the Mediapool.bg website, to pay 60,000 leva (around 30,000 euros) for insulting and slandering Judge Svetlin Mihaylov , described as “controversial” in a 2018 article that focused on various questionable elements of his professional history and reputation.

“The court’s decision not only does not comment on the fact that Mihaylov is a public figure, but also does not discuss any of the defense arguments,” AEJ recalled.

“The Association of European Journalists strongly opposes attempts to intimidate journalists through judicial repression for their critical publications, which contain proven and well-known allegations,” he added.