More than 100 Bulgarian journalists and citizens gathered on Monday in front of the Palace of Justice in Sofia to protest against the violation of freedom of speech by the state prosecution. The protest took place in support of the criminal reporter Boris Mitov who had to give explanations to the prosecutors twice in relation to his critical publication on a wiretapping scandal, involving Sofia’s vice-chief prosecutor Roman Vassilev and the current head of the state legal authority Sotir Tsatsarov.
On Friday, just few hours after he published his article named “ Bulgaria’s Watergate: who will examine the examiner?”on the website Mediapool.bg, disclosing legal documents that had already been declassified, Mitov was called in the prosecutor’s office and asked to name the source who provided him with the information and to hand in the documents he revealed. After refusing to do so and explaining that the information has been declassified by the Court, the journalist was threatened with a legal proceeding on the grounds of false bearing and disclosing a state secret. In addition, he was called to testify again on Monday.
The pressure, applied on the reporter provoked the immediate criticism of journalists and human rights defenders as it is in obvious breach of right of freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In its official position on the case, AEJ-Bulgaria cited ECHR’s decision on the case Goodwin v. the United Kingdom, 27 March 1996, No 16/1994/463/544 where the Court stresses that the principle of protection of journalists’ sources is on the of the basic principles of the freedom of the press and that without such protection the press would be deprived of vital role of a watchdog and the ability of the media to provide accurate and trustworthy information would be seriously undermined. In addition, in the case of Sanoma Uitgevers B.V. v. the Netherlands , the Court states that prosecution’s office cannot be considered impartial in such investigations, as it protects interests, incompatible with the protection of journalists’ sources of information. Therefore, the prosecutors cannot force journalists to disclose their informers.
AEJ-Bulgaria called on the prosecutors to refrain from any further actions that could violate the legal practice of the Court in Strasbourg, which has direct effect for all the institutions in the countries that have ratified the Convention. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and numerous human rights lawyers also condemned the act.
However, Boris Mitov still had to talk to the prosecutors on Monday which provoked the protest that took place during his visit in the Palace of Justice. It turned out that the prosecutor in charge denied threatening the journalist with any legal proceeding and he left the building with his lawyer just few minutes later after signing papers that he does not possess any documents related to the investigation. According to the reporter, the case seems closed and he won’t be held in charge of his publication. Yet, the examination of the legal authority is still ongoing, even though Sofia’s top prosecutor Nikolay Kokinov guaranteed on Monday that up to now there are no grounds for starting legal actions against the journalist.