Call on Interior Minister Kalin Stoyanov to Resign Over SLAPP Case

The Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria (AEJ) is outraged by the latest vexatious lawsuit (SLAPP) filed against the team of the investigative website BIRD.bg, this time by the Minister of Interior Kalin Stoyanov, who is involved in numerous political scandals. On Monday, BIRD revealed that Stoyanov has filed a civil defamation lawsuit worth 65,000 leva (around 33 000 EUR) against journalists Atanas Chobanov and Dimitar Stoyanov. The claim covers a series of materials, social media posts and media appearances by BIRD and its reporters, relаted to the media’s investigation into a power brokering network in Bulgaria’s police and judiciary lead by Martin Bozhanov, nicknamed The Notary, who was publicly assassinated in Sofia on January 31. 

It is unacceptable that the minister is attempting to silence investigative reporters at a time when both allegations of corruption in the Interior Ministry and problems with the increasing number of SLAPP cases are topics of significant public interest. We believe that given the circumstances Stoyanov must resign from his post. We would also like to reiterate our call on Justice Minister Maria Pavlova to continue the legislative process aimed at curbing the risk of SLAPP cases against journalists and citizen activists, launched by previous ministers Krum Zarkov and Atanas Slavov. 

AEJ-Bulgaria has studied in detail the claim of Kalin Stoyanov against our colleagues Chobanov and Stoyanov and is convinced that the lawsuit bears the characteristics of a SLAPP. The Minister claims that the facts and allegations set out in the publications go beyond the limits of freedom of speech and affect his dignity and authority, which “in this case is of particular importance” because of the senior public office he holds. The applicant’s claim is contrary to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, according to which politicians enjoy a lower degree of protection than ordinary citizens, particularly in regards to journalistic criticism (Lingens v. Austria, 1986). 

Moreover, minister Stoyanov objects to the use of anonymous sources by the authors of BIRD.bg, which is not only their right, but also their responsibility in cases when revealing their identity involves significant risk for the safety of informants. In the case of Bozhanov’s murder and the revelations that followed it there are strong enough arguments for guaranteeing the protection of journalistic sources. 

Last but not least, BIRD announced that they have been SLAPPed on the very same day when Dimitar Stoyanov was called to the prosecution for questioning as a witness in pre-trial proceedings for the release of classified information. This is the latest episode in a full-blown attack by state institutions and criminal figures on BIRD journalists since 2023. 

We have continuously called  for the institutional harassment against our colleagues to stop, but instead we witness exactly the opposite – a growing number of SLAPP cases, with the head of the MoI now joining the ranks of plaintiffs alongside underground figures. Once again, instead of protecting the public interest and investigating crimes, the police and the prosecutor’s office are using legal weapons against the few remaining critical voices that din fact do their job – investigative journalists. We find this completely unacceptable and call on Kalin Stoyanov to leave his post.

AEJ-Bulgaria will provide full support to our colleagues, including legal assistance if needed, and will notify all our international partners of yet another gross violation of freedom of expression in our country.

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