Continued concern over the state of independent media in Bulgaria

Association

European civil society organisations (CSOs) released a statement ahead of the EU-Western Balkans Summit held on 17th May 2018 in Bulgaria. The statement focuses on the challenges faced by NGOs working on issues related to migration and refugees. The fifth point in the statement emphasises the need to protect and support such NGOs as they often face persecution and threats from the authorities or others. The signatories asserted that:

"Civil society organisations should be able to fulfill their mandate, whether it is providing support to refugees and migrants or holding governments accountable, without fearing prosecution or threats".

On 16th May, participants of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum adopted a statement of solidarity with Bulgarian civil society organisations working on issues related to the rule of law and defending environmental rights as well as democratic, social justice and human rights norms, as espoused by the European Union. The statement was signed on 16th May during the Forum's 8th General Assembly and notes the challenges the sector faces "with the ongoing pressure by connected political and business interests against critical civil society voices in Bulgaria". The statement calls for "urgent attention and decisive actions" from not only the Bulgarian authorities, but from the EU as well. 

Peaceful Assembly

May 2018 was a month of social protest in Bulgaria, with several actions taking place on a variety of issues which are described as follows.

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) organised a protest on Labour Day, demanding the government's resignation. At the same time, trade union federations took to the streets calling for “decent pay” that would be equal to salaries in other European Union countries. 

Hundreds of Fur Free Alliance supporters gathered in Sofia as part of a campaign that unites southeastern European countries – Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Montenegro – to end the use of fur in various industries.

On 17th May 2018, Bulgarian truckers announced a protest against the EC Mobility Package. The protest was held in Sofia and in the cities of Plovdiv, Vidin, Russe, Pleven, V. Turnovo, Vratza, Svilengrad, as well as at the Kulata and Ilinden crossing points on the Bulgarian border with Greece.

Expression

On World Press Freedom Day, the Bulgarian branch of the Association of European Journalist (AEJ) released an analysis on the media situation in the country. In Bulgaria, for example, journalists, especially investigative journalists, feel under constant pressure, as many of their investigations deal with public figures and government institutions. The AEJ made several recommendations to potentially improve the situation, such as to encourage media literacy in Bulgaria and develop initiatives to educate people on the importance of an independent media.

On 17th May, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement to raise awareness about the media situation across Europe. Concerns related to "increasing political pressure and growing political control over media" were also highlighted in the statement. 

Earlier in May, RSF reported on an incident where Bulgarian investigative journalist Hristo Geshov was reportedly "attacked and beaten outside his home" on 10th May. The attacker has yet to be identified. Civil society came out in Geshov's defence, condemning the attack and expressing concern over the safety of investigative journalists in Bulgaria. Geshov has been reporting on several sensitive and controversial issues, including some that involve public officials. Following the incident, Geshov spoke out in a Facebook post, declaring:

“Despite the pain and many bruises, I am sure that I will not abandon my work, and the attack against me is a sign that I am right”.