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November 8, 2018 - Updated on November 9, 2018

Bulgaria harasses independent media group again

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Bulgarian authorities to stop harassing Economedia group owner Ivo Prokopiev, the publisher of the leading financial weekly Capital, who is to be prosecuted on money laundering charges, the prosecutor’s office has announced.

A year after the authorities froze his assets and bank accounts with the apparent aim of silencing his media outlets, which also include the news website Dnevnik, prosecutors announced on 26 October that they intend to prosecute him in connection with the sale of one of his companies to a German group.

 

Prokopiev insists that the allegations are unfounded and that this is a renewed attempt to silence the country’s independent media. He says he suspects a reprisal for a recent Capital report about the apparent misappropriation of state property by businessman close to the government.

 

In a bid to shed more light on the judicial harassment of his media group and other independent media outlets such as the daily Sega and the news site ClubZ, Prokopiev is calling for international observers to be briefed about the judicial investigations, an exceptional procedure that could lead to more transparency about the grounds or motives.

 

Prokopiev has also referred the seizure of his assets to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

 

Any opposition media outlet that dares to criticize the government or pro-government oligarchs is exposed to attack,” said Pauline Adès-Mével, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk.

 

Sometimes the oligarchs use tabloids, news sites and TV stations to smear opposition media. Sometimes the authorities resort to judicial harassment to stifle independent media voices. The constant controls, attacks and confiscations designed to prevent these media from functioning must stop at once.”

 

When Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, it was placed under the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification (CVM), which the European Commission is supposed to use to monitor the pace of a newly-admitted country’s judicial reforms and efforts to combat corruption. Pending the Commission’s next report on the rule of law in Bulgaria, due on 13 November, RSF urges the European Commission - to extend the CVM monitoring and include, with special attention, monitoring of investigations against independent media.

 

Economedia was the target of a series of hostile actions from 2009 to 2013 prompted by the investigative reporting that its outlets conducted into the systems of corruption allegedly employed by the Bulgarian bank CCB.

 

Immediately after the first investigative report was published in 2009, media owned by the oligarch Delyan Peevski launched a major smear campaign against Prokopiev and Economedia’s publications. This campaign has never stopped and continues to use the same false allegations although Prokopiev has brought many successful libel suits against Peevski’s publications.

 

Bulgaria was 36th in RSF's World Press Freedom Index when it joined the EU 11 years ago but its position has fallen steadily since then along with the press freedom situation, and it is now ranked 111th out of 180 countries, the lowest ranking of any EU member state.