Bulgarian journalists protest as prosecutors question reporter over article

Written by on April 8, 2013 in Bulgaria, News - No comments

Several dozen Bulgarian journalists protested outside the Palace of Justice in the capital city Sofia on April 8 as reporter Boris Mitov was questioned by prosecutors in connection with a report that alleged a connection between Sofia deputy city prosecutor Roman Vassilev and illicit electronic eavesdropping procedures.

The questioning and the protest were a sequel to an article by Mediapool reporter Mitov in which he cited court records as allegedly implicating Vassilev in irregularities. Mitov called in question whether Vassilev was suited to involvement in a current investigation by Sofia prosecutors into alleged illegal wiretapping by the interior ministry under the previous government.

After Mitov’s story was posted on April 5, he was contacted by a senior Sofia prosecution official, Dragomir Yanchev, who called him for questioning and, according to media reports, told Mitov that he could be jailed for up to five years for disclosing state secrets. Yanchev reportedly asked Mitov to disclose the sources of his story. Mitov said that he refused to do so.

The allegations made in Mitov’s article arise from the trial of three officials, former defence minister Nikolai Tsonev, former finance ministry chief secretary Tencho Popov and judge Petar Santirov, charged in 2010 and acquitted in October 2012 on corruption charges.

Mitov said that the court documents had been declassified by the presiding judge and were part of the public court record.

The episode became a media freedom issue, with the Sofia-based Media Development Center organising the April 8 protest, in which journalists – with duct tape over their mouths – demonstrated in defence of freedom of speech and the right to protect their sources of information.

The Media Development Center said that the insistence by prosecutors that Mitov disclose his sources was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which guarantees journalists the right not to disclose their sources.

Expressions of solidarity have come from, among others, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which said that the prosecutors’ questioning of Mitov as a “dramatic assault on freedom of expression, including the right to public information”.

On April 8, Sofia City Prosecutor Nikolai Kokinov told reporters that Mitov’s article was interesting but Mitov himself was of no interest to prosecutors. From Kokinov’s statements, it appeared that the substance of the investigation was to into whether secrecy laws had been breached, and not into the allegations made in the article itself.

Kokinov said that Mitov had promised to give prosecutors the documents on which his article was based by 2pm on April 5 but had not done so and so had been invited to return to the prosecutors’ office on April 8.

He said that Vassilev had not been involved in the decision to question Mitov. Deputy city prosecutor Bozidar Dzhambazov had initiated the check to establish whether state secrecy had been breached, according to Kokinov, who said that the declassification by the judge had not covered all the material.

Kokinov said that prosecutors had “no bad intentions” towards Mitov and he had been questioned as a citizen.

Mitov was accompanied to questioning on April 8 by a lawyer, Daniela Dokovska. He was not asked to disclose sources, reports said.

Meanwhile, the investigation by prosecutors into whether the interior ministry conducted illegal wiretaps is expected to conclude on April 12, with the results to be announced four days later.

(Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis/flickr.com)

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