Bulgaria: Police held two investigative journalists

Source: BalkanInsight

Bulgarian police on Thursday held two investigative journalists from the independent media outlets Rise Romania and Bivol as they were investigating fraud over EU funds before eventually releasing them.

Bulgaria Detains Journalists Probing EU Funds Fraud

By Ana Maria Luca, Martin Dimitrov | BIRN Bucharest, Sofia Bulgarian police in Pernik, a small town on the outskirts of the country's capital Sofia, on Thursday detained two investigative journalists from the independent platforms Rise Romania and Bivol Bulgaria as they researched a story on fraud involving European funds, the media outlets announced.Attila Biro, an editor with Rise Romania, and Bivol’s Dimitar Stoyanov were apprehended as they tried to film the subjects of their investigation burning documents in an empty field outside town.Rise Romania said police handcuffed the two reporters and kept them in the field for an hour before taking them to the police station in Radomir, near Pernik.“The Radomir police station and the Pernik police station refused to cooperate when we contacted them,” Bivol wrote on their Facebook page.“We’ve had no contact with our colleagues for three hours … We are witnessing unprecedented police brutality on journalists!” the outlet said.The journalists were released after readers in both Romania and Bulgaria called the police stations in Radomir and Pernik to pressure the authorities into releasing information about the journalists. Biro also received assistance from the Romanian consulate in Bulgaria, Rise said in an update.“Attila and Dimitar helped the Bulgarian police to carry the [rescued] documents to the police station, but the papers were burned or shredded,” Rise said.A press release of the Romanian Foreign Ministry said the Bulgarian police had said they detained the journalists for verification because they were in an area under police surveillance and that they released them after verification. The Bulgarian Interior Ministry told BIRN over the phone to “wait until the situation clears up for further comment".Bulgarian police responded to media inquiries at noon on Friday."On the 11 September, the Chief Directorate of the Interior Ministry received a tip by a journalist about an intended cover-up of corruption practices - the destruction of materials, connected to public procurement contracts," reads the statement published on the Bulgarian police website.The tip prompted the Chief Directorate and the local police to organise an operation near Pernik, it added."In the area of operation three individuals were arrested, who were later identified as two journalists and a lawyer," the statement continues.The statement did not include any further information about the alleged burning of documents that Stoyanov and Biro were signalling about.The Bulgarian branch of the Association of European Journalists, a media freedom NGO, wrote in a statement on Thursday that it hopes the relevant institutions will publish more information on the motives for the journalists' arrests. "We remind the authorities that, by default, journalists serve the public interest and all limitations to their work need to be seriously motivated, or they might amount to limiting of the freedom of speech", the NGO warned. Earlier this week, Bivol published an investigation in English on alleged abuse of EU funds by consultancies and connected companies.The investigation, done alongside Rise project, was part of the project called Exposing Fraud in EU-funded Projects in Romania and Bulgaria, funded by the IJ4EU fund of the European Commission and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom. Bulgaria ranks 111th, the lowest ranking of all EU countries, in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. NOTE: This article was updated on Friday, September 14, to include an additional official statement from the Bulgarian police.