Bulgarian authorities ignore death threats against anti-corruption reporter
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Bulgarian authorities to conduct a thorough and independent probe into the threats received by investigative reporter Nikolay Staykov after he released a documentary about a corruption affair allegedly involving state institutions. RSF demands that Staykov be granted immediate police protection.
After receiving dozens of anonymous calls asking about funeral services, Nikolay Staykov has filed a report with the police. But the police has neither took action, nor judged necessary that he needs protection. Staykov specializes in covering corruption cases and his reporting is often picked up by both national and international media.
“The Bulgarian authorities must provide Nikolay Staykov with protection and must conduct a thorough and independent investigation into these disturbing threats,” said Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans Desk. “The lack of a rapid reaction on their part would just encourage more of this kind of pressure on investigative reporters.”
The intimidations and the vandalization of his house with eggs are apparently linked to the broadcast of the first part of his documentary The Eight Dwarfs (the second part was released on July 2nd), by Anti-Corruption Fund (ACF), an NGO that Staykov helped to found. The report alleges that certain official entities, including the Prosecutor’s office, were involved in the financial swindling of Iliya Zlatanov, the majority shareholder in Izamet, Bulgaria’s biggest elevator manufacturer.
The death threats against Staykov began on 18 June after he had tried to contact one of the protagonists of the affair for his documentary. This was Petyo Petrov, a lawyer and former Head of investigations at the Sofia City Prosecutor General's Office. The threats ended immediately after ACF made them public.
After the first part of the documentary had released, the Prosecutor’s office filed a complaint on 26 June and began an initial investigation into its allegations. Staykov was then questioned by a special unit at the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office whose former chief is none other than the brother of Petrov.
The day that the Prosecutor’s Office filed its complaint, Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev took it upon himself to accuse ACF of being linked to Ivo Prokopiev, the owner of Economedia, an independent media group that is very critical of the government.
Reporters who investigate corruption are often victims of pressures in Bulgaria. Atanas Tchobanov, who has exposed the biggest scandals in recent years, and his colleagues at the investigative news website Bivol, have been targeted by constant harassment, including threats, murder attempts, surveillance, phone-tapping, tax inspections, judicial pressures and investigations of their property. The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office even asked the French judicial authorities to investigate Tchobanov, who used to be political refugee in France. Rossen Bossev, a reporter for the business weekly Capital (which is part of the Economedia group), was convicted of defamation in May 2019 for criticizing the head of Bulgaria’s Financial Supervision Commission in a TV interview four years earlier.
Bulgaria is ranked 111th in RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index for the third year running, far below any other European Union member.