BULGARIA: Pressure applied on the media - Bulgaria

BULGARIA, BULGARIA, 26/02/2007, 13:50

To:

Sergei Stanishev
Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria

Rumen Yordanov Petkov
Minister of Interior Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria  

Georgi Pirinski
Chairman of the National AssemblySofia, Bulgaria    

Your Excellencies,

The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from South East Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), is alarmed at the pressure applied on the media by the supporters and members of the Bulgarian ATAKA party, including its leader Volen Siderov, on the editorial offices of the Bulgarian daily 24 hours and weekly 168 hours. 

Based on information provided to SEEMO, on 23 February at about 1.40 pm Siderov, his deputy Pavel Shopov, and Dimitar Stojanov, ATAKA Member of the Bulgarian Parliament and Member of the European Parliament, together with a group of party supporters, went to the editorial office of two newspapers. In addition, another organised group of some 100 supporters was waiting nearby. When at the editorial office of the print media, the group requested from the journalists a document to justify an article published on the previous day about some financial transactions.

During the visit journalists and editors from both newspapers were threatened, humiliated and verbally abused. During the invasion of the newspapers' editorial office one ATAKA politician allegedly threatened Nikolai Penchev, editor-in-chief of 168 hours. The politician apparently said to Penchev that he would "rip out" his liver and that he knows where Penchev lives.  

We would like to remind Your Excellencies, that those with legitimate complaints against the media have a range of different mechanisms to pursue these complaints. These violent threats represent a serious attempt to pressure the media and they should be condemned whenever and wherever they occur.  SEEMO would also like to remind Your Excellencies that a safe working environment for journalists is a fundamental element of every democratic society. Bulgaria in now a member of the European Union (EU) and these violent actions against journalists by the members and supporters of a political party in an EU country are unacceptable. 

Your Excellencies, we ask you to fully investigate this case, including the verbal threats made against the journalists. We call on Your Excellencies to do everything in your power to protect the lives of all journalists, and to take all necessary steps against the persons responsible for this unwarranted invasion of a newspaper.  We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Vujovic
SEEMO Secretary General 

Answer from Rumen Yordanov Petkov, Minister of Interior Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria

Sofia February 27th 2007   

To:

Mr. Oliver Vujovic

SEEMO Secretary Genera  

Dear Mr. Vujovic,

In reply to the letter sent on behalf of the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), signed by you, I can assure you I totally share the opinion that "a safe working environment for journalists is a fundamental element of every democratic society". The reaction of the Ministry of Interior officials to the referred incident in the editorial offices of the Bulgarian newspapers 24 Hours and 168 Hours unambiguously confirms that we are able to ensure and protect the freedom of speech and journalists' security. I hope that a review of the facts' chronology from Friday afternoon will convince you in that.I was informed immediately about the incident by the First Regional Police Department within the Sofia Metropolitan Police Directorate, which is responsible for the territory where the editorial offices are situated. On 23rd of February at about 2.47 p.m. operators on the hotline 166 received a phone call from Mr. Radomir Cholakov, chief jurisconsult of the 168 Hours newspaper. He informed them that Volen Siderov, leader of the parliamentary represented party Ataka and 30 - 40 supporters of the party had come into the newspaper's editorial office at the Printing House. They had rushed into the editor-in-chief's office and had started abusing and threatening. The cause for that had been a publication in the newspaper's latest issue. Immediately after receiving the signal, auto patrols, police investigators and operative workers of the First Regional Police Department, as well as forces of the Specialised Unit for Protection of the Sofia Metropolitan Police Directorate were sent to the incident's venue. They ascertained the following: at approximately 1.30 p.m. the deputy editor-in-chief of 168 Hours received a call by the security guard of the building, asking him whether he expected citizens' visit to the editorial office. While discussing the appointments with the editor-in-chief, a large group of people crowded in front of the 168 Hours editorial office and rushed into the 24 Hours corridor, and afterwards headed to the weekly newspaper's editorial office. The group was lead by Mr. Volen Siderov and other Ataka MPs - Pavel Shopov, Dimitar Stoyanov and Georgi Dimitrov. They headed towards Mr. Penchev's office where some of the supporters, by using provocative shouts, threatened the editor-in-chief with taking the law in their own hands. After that they went into random editorial rooms, looking for the publication's author. Mr. Siderov was asked several times to leave the editorial office but he refused. The MPs and the citizens that accompanied him continued to threaten the journalists after which they left the building. The head of the Sofia Regional Prosecutor's Office, Mr. Nalbantov, was informed immediately about the incident. By his order, a prosecutor was sent to the venue to supervise the situation and to execute the procedural and investigative activities. A pre-trial case against an unknown perpetrator was instituted under Art.212, Para 2 of the Penal Procedure Code. The criminal procedure is for committing indecent activities, grossly violating the public order and expressing obvious disrespect to society - a crime under Art.325, Para 1 of the Penal Code. By an order of the prosecutor M. Beshkov, dated February 26th, interrogations of the personnel of both editorial offices, who had witnessed the incident, were requested. The order also stated "all the MPs and supporters of the parliamentary represented party Ataka, present at the 24 Hours and 168 Hourswitnesses, about the circumstances that have to be proven". The order gives directions for executing technical expertise reports on the collected evidence on the case.  newspapers' editorial offices, have to be interrogated, in their capacity of   I'm deliberately giving you the facts about the case in detail, because I am convinced in the public significance of the act of violation against the freedom of speech, as well as in the fact that the law enforcement officials have reacted to the signal from the editorial office in due course. Even more concerning is the fact that the MPs which have been asked to give explanations on the case have not so far gone to the police for interrogation - this is extremely alarming because the persons concerned represent the people and are vested with power. As Minister of Interior I cannot accept a behaviour that hinders the work of the law enforcement and the judicial authorities, since all of us request and expect fast investigation and guaranteeing of citizens' security and safety. I'm aware that the police are defending peoples' rights and freedoms. I have informed the Prime Minister about MPs not showing in the police.  Acquainting you with the facts for the time being, I would like to assure you once more that the Bulgarian police have undertaken duly and professionally all the necessary activities to examine the case and to protect journalists' security. As a confirmation to my words, I hope that you'll accept the invitation to discuss the case with you personally or with other representatives of SEEMO.

 Signed,

Rumen Petkov
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