Neo-Nazi protest banned, journalist brutally attacked by unknown assailants

Peaceful Assembly

The "Lukov March" which is organised every February since 2003 to honour Hristo Lukov, a pro-Nazi leader of the fascist Union of Bulgarian National Legions, was scheduled to be held on 22nd February 2020. The March has over the years gained public notoriety for being a neo-Nazi action.

However, to stop this mobilisation and the spread of ultra-nationalist ideas it has become tradition by anti-fascist groups to organise anti-Nazi protests on the same day as the Lukov March. On 19th February 2020, Antifa Bulgaria announced that they would hold a “No to Nazis on our Streets” event a few hours before the Lukov March on 22nd February 2020.

The mayor of Sofia has also banned the Lukov marches in the recent past, although the courts have always overturned the mayor’s bans, as previously reported on the Monitor. This year however, the mayor’s ban was upheld by the Court of Appeal. Because of the court’s ruling, supporters of the Lukov March who had arrived in the country from various parts of Europe were only allowed to gather in front of Lukov’s former house to lay wreaths. Critics however questioned the court ruling, arguing that it did not ban the march but, rather, only allowed the group to gather and protest without marching.

The ‘No to Nazis on our Streets’ event however proceeded as scheduled, with over 300 activists marching through the streets, chanting "Sofia is not a Nazi city." 

Expression

On 17th March 2020, investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian newspaper “168 Hours” Slavi Angelov was attacked near his house by two masked assailants who beat him with metal pipes while a third one filmed the beating using a camera phone. Angelov passed out from the beating and was taken to a nearby hospital.

According to the Interior Ministry, the beating may have been an attempted assassination, as the police also noted that the attackers did not take anything from Angelov, who was carrying a laptop. In recent months, Angelov had written extensive investigative reports exposing various issues including serious financial violations in the gambling industry, a prostitution ring said to operate in Bulgaria and Greece, and the acquittal of a businessman who had been accused of causing environmental damage to a camp site.

The Bulgarian Telegraph Agency condemned the attack in a statement that read:

“The team of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency condemns the act of brutal violence against the editor-in-chief of ‘168 Chasa’ newspaper, Slavi Angelov – one of the bright representatives of investigative journalism and free speech in Bulgaria. We hope that the perpetrators… of the brutal attack will be exposed and punished with the full rigour of the law”.

The representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Harlem Desir, also condemned the attack, calling it an unacceptable act of intimidation. He warned that if left unpunished, such attacks would create fear within the media fraternity. Similarly, the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria also denounced the brutal attack, and called for a swift and thorough investigation, noting that the incident was not only a physical attack on Angelov, but also an attack against press freedom in Bulgaria. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Bulgaria has been ranked lowest among European Union countries in RSF’s annual Media Freedom Index for several years.