RSF condemns the arrest of two investigative journalists in Bulgaria
Reporters Without Borders condemns in the strongest terms the detention by Bulgarian police earlier this month of two journalists investigating allegations of fraud involving European Union funds in Romania and Bulgaria.
Attila Biro, editor of the Romanian investigative website Rise Project, and Dimitar Stoyanov, of the Bulgarian site Bivol, were arrested in the Sofia suburb of Pernik on 14 September and held for six hours.
RSF calls on the Bulgarian authorities to guarantee the safety of the pair, who since have received thinly disguised threats. Biro is Romanian and Stoyanov Bulgarian. The Bivol website is well known for its investigations into corruption. The two journalists arrived at an unidentified location to find bags full of documents shredded and still smoking, that linked major Bulgarian firms to the misuse of EU funds.
As they were taking photographs of the evidence, they were arrested and handcuffed by the police and held in detention for six hours. They were prevented from making phone call and their cell phones were seized.
Bivol has been investigating corruption in Bulgaria for several years and on 11 September it published a landmark report giving details of what it termed large-scale corruption affecting projects in Bulgaria financed by the EU and worth millions of euros.
The siterecently discovered that one of the firms implicated in the alleged fraud was removing documents and taking them out of the capital to store them in a secret location, or destroy them, without arousing the suspicions of the authorities.
Since the investigation was published, Bivol’s Stoyanov and fellow reporters Assen Jordanov and Atanas Chobanov have come under severe pressure.
“According to information received by RSF, the personal safety of the investigative journalists, and of their sources, may be under threat from the company bosses mentioned in the report,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk. “This is a matter of concern to RSF and it urges the Bulgarian authorities to guarantee their safety.”
The Romanian authorities have taken steps to ensure Biro was able to return to Bucharest but Bulgarian officials have not taken similar steps. The head of Bulgaria’s anti-mafia police apologised to the journalists, citing a miscommunication with the local police, but he nevertheless publicly thanked the officers who carried out the arrests.
The failure of the Bulgarian authorities to take action and the refusal for more than a week of the public prosecutor to investigate allegations of the misuse of EU funds by, among others, the construction firm GP Group and the oligarch Valentin Zlatev, manager of Lukoil Bulgaria, raises questions about the authorities’ willingness to shed light on such rampant corruption.
The reputation of the Bivol journalists is well established and one of its editors is a member of the executive committee of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a renowned and long-established network of investigative journalists dedicated to reporting on organised crime and corruption.
Investigative journalists in Bulgaria are often subjected to pressure, from mere warnings to intimidation and physical assaults on themselves or their property. Bulgaria is ranked 111th of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, the lowest position of any European Union member state.