Serious threats to investigative journalism in Bulgaria
Conditions for investigative journalism in Bulgaria have become more precarious as several reporters from the Bulgarian news agency Bivol have been harassed, threatened and summoned for questioning by the police several times over the past year. Bivol is the Bulgarian partner of the Organization for Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (OCCRP). Journalists, including Dimitar Stoyanov at Bivol, have reported on cases involving high-level corruption and embezzlement of public funds, which has made them a threat to the political establishment. Reporters without Borders (RSF) has demanded that the journalists receive the assistance and protection they need to carry out their work. Pauline Ades-Mevel, the head of RSF’s EU-Balkans desk, said in the group's statement:
"We offer our full support to Bivol’s staff, who are the victims of an unprecedented campaign of harassment by the oligarchs and officials they have covered, and we request protective measures for Dimitar Stoyanov.”
In a recent report, Amnesty International raised concerns over Bulgaria’s anti-terrorism law, which could be used to silence political opponents, human rights defenders and marginalised groups, including migrants, refugees, members of the Roma community and Muslims. Amnesty highlighted the rise of xenophobia and intolerance as a particularly concern with this law:
“Against a backdrop of high levels of racism and intolerance towards marginalized groups in Bulgaria...it is self-evident that the vague and overly broad definitions of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist acts’ could be used to arbitrarily target for monitoring, surveillance, investigation, and prosecution individuals from such marginalized groups against whom the state has neither credible nor sufficient evidence of criminality.”
This rising intolerance was on show in February as far right protestors took to the streets. On 12th February, an anti-fascist protest was held in Sofia ahead of a neo-Nazi rally planned for the 19th. The march on the 12th was organised by the Antifa Bulgaria group under the slogan "No Nazis in Our Streets." Despite this public opposition and a municipal ban on the event, the neo-Nazi demonstration went ahead on 20th February. The World Jewish Congress applauded the mayor of Sofia for taking steps to prohibit the event, but expressed deep concern over the fact that participants still gathered to march with offensive anti-Semitic slogans and symbols on display.
In January, Bulgarian farmers took to the streets, dissatisfied with new rules on the receipt of European subsidies. They whistled, chanted slogans and spilled milk in front of the Ministry of Agriculture to express their frustration with unfair competition from foreign producers.
In early 2017, mass protests erupted in Romania against the adoption of legislation that would decriminalise certain corrupt acts committed by public servants. In February, people in Bulgaria held demonstrations at the Romanian Embassy in Sofia to show solidarity with the Romanian protesters and demand a more concerted effort to combat corruption in both countries.