AEJ-Bulgaria calls on the Bulgarian insurance company Lev Ins to immediately withdraw its lawsuit against the independent news website Mediapool, reported by the media today. The defamation claim for one million leva is unprecedented for Bulgaria and is a typical example of a SLAPP case, aimed at silencing journalists in the country which ranks 91th in Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index for 2022.
Both the scope and the grounds of the lawsuit are absurd, as the media is being sued for reporting on a statement of Bulgaria’s finance minister directly quoted from an official verbatim report. The company’s actions lead us to believe that they are aimed at deterring other media and journalists from reporting on the problems linked to it, as they could face colossal legal fines.
“Our clients, traveling abroad in this period, were confused and worried”, the company says in the claim. AEJ would like to add that any client of a company which dares to SLAPP journalists in such a brutal way should feel “confused and worried”.
The news for the record claim of Lev Ins comes just a day after the publishing of the Annual Report by the partner organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists. The document highlights the problem with SLAPPs in Europe and specifically notes another case targeted at Mediapool, whose journalists were fined by Sofia City Court for critical reporting on an infamous judge. The other Bulgarian case involves another insurance Company, Eurohold, which filed a SLAPP against investigative website Bivol.
We call on the Bulgarian authorities for a swift adoption of legal mechanisms that would limit the vicious practice of launching vexatious lawsuits against critical voices. AEJ-Bulgaria recently discussed Bulgaria’s potential actions against SLAPPS as well as the Anti-SLAPP Directive, proposed by the European Commission, with Minister of Justice Krum Zarkov. We specifically noted that the lack of a financial limit for a legal claim in the country makes it easy to silence journalists and activists who face unrealistically high financial claims in courts.
AEJ also urges the Bulgarian professional community and society to react against the case, as such brutal legal harassment against journalists is a threat to the whole media environment and must not be normalized.