Reporters Without Borders today said it was “shocked” by interior minister Rumen Petkov's announcement yesterday that no police officers will be punished for the alleged beating of news photographer Emil Ivanov at the law courts in Sofia on 16 May because an investigation by his ministry concluded that he was not beaten by the police.
The military prosecutor's office previously announced that the policemen would not be prosecuted on similar grounds. Bulgaria's police come under the authority of the armed forces.
“This sends a message to the police that they are free to do whatever they like, that their word counts more than anyone else's and that they are above the law,” Reporters Without Borders said. This is not compatible with the rule of law that is supposed to prevail in the countries of the European Union, which Bulgaria recently joined.”
The police officers who were questioned by investigators - who had been identified from the pictures of other journalists present - denied beating Ivanov and said they intend to sue him for defamation.
Ivanov, who works for the Express newspaper, is about to file an appeal against the military prosecutor's decision and he intends to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights if his appeal is rejected. He cannot however appeal against the interior ministry decision as it is the result of an internal investigation.
22 May 2007
Outrage at decision not to prosecute police who beat up photographer
Reporters Without Borders voiced “outrage” today at a decision by the Bulgarian authorities not to prosecute the police officers allegedly responsible for beating photographer Emil Ivanov of the Express daily newspaper at the law courts on 16 May after he photographed policemen sent to guard a wealthy businessman who had just given evidence in a murder trial. Prosecutors said they lacked evidence.
“We hope interior minister Romen Petkov will keep his promise and that the policemen who assaulted Ivanov will be severely disciplined,” the Reporters Without Borders said. “It is unthinkable that police officers should go unpunished after beating up a journalist while he was doing his job. In the wake of last weekend's first European parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, any climb-down by the authorities in this case would run counter to the values defended by the European Union.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “We extend our support for the protest which the Association of Bulgarian Cameramen and Photographers plans to hold outside the interior ministry tomorrow. We join Bulgaria's journalists in reminding the political authorities that no civil society can survive without free and independent information.”
Express editor Danka Vasileva told Reporters Without Borders that the interior minister promised to let her know by midday tomorrow what conclusions he had reached. “I want to believe that the minister will keep his promises,” she said. “It would be shocking that the police is mobilised to protect a witness - who is not officially getting protection - and at the same time is allowed to beat a photographer.”
Aged 55, Ivanov photographed policemen, sent to guard businessman Mladen Mihalev as he left the law courts after giving evidence in the trial of the alleged murderers of Milcho Bonev, one of his former associates. Unprecedented security measures were adopted for his appearance. Traffic was diverted, Mihalev was allowed to come with his own bodyguards, and all journalists were thoroughly searched before entering the courtroom.
As Ivanov was taking his photos of the policemen on duty outside the court building, they asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was doing his job, that he was in a public place and that he had every right to be there. After asking him to erase his photos, they tried to grab his camera and then dragged him inside the building and shut the door.
A journalist outside, Maria Nikolayeva, said she heard Ivanov cry out for help as he was being beaten. Ivanov later said he was punched and kicked until he agreed to erase his photos, and then he was thrown out on to the street. The doctors who examined him said his injuries were consistent with his description of the beating.