Bulgarian authorities are turning a blind eye to the arrest and police violence against freelance journalist Dimiter Kenarov. The latest developments of the probe into the incident raise concerns about the transparency and fairness of the investigation.
Our colleague was arrested on September 2, 2020 while covering an anti-government protest which turned violent. Despite identifying himself as a reporter multiple times, he was taken away by three police officers and was subjected to violence while being handcuffed. The next morning a forensic doctor confirmed his injuries and bruises.
AEJ-Bulgaria along with a number of international press freedom groups have called for a fair and independent investigation. However, five months later, many questions about the attack remain unanswered.
According to the police’s account Kenarov, who was handcuffed and convoyed to a nearby police department where he spent a few hours without being given any explanation, was actually “visiting” the station upon the “invitation” of the officer on duty that night.
In the end of January 2021 prosecutors refused to launch a formal investigation, citing an internal check, carried out by the same police department that was in charge of guarding the protests. In practice, the Sofia Directorate of Interior Affairs was tasked to investigate itself.
Moreover, both police and prosecutors have accepted an unverified account of an alleged witness, sent by email, who claimed that he had witnessed Kenarov behaving aggressively without carrying any visible press credentials, according to a prosecution’s report of the incident. At the same time, none of the dozens of reporters, who were covering the rallies, have been questioned. Neither the Sofia police department, nor the prosecutors had been able to identify the officers who grabbed Kenarov. So far, they have remained anonymous.
During the clashes Kenarov was filming and was therefore on the frontline. He did not step back when the police, over a loudspeaker, ordered the crowd to disperse. The prosecutor concluded that since the journalist had not obeyed a police order and had remained documenting the events on the frontline, the police had justly used force against him and arrested him. Such an approach is alarming, as it might practically greenlight riot police to arrest frontline reporters who are covering social unrest and to use force against them.
AEJ-Bulgaria has appealed interior minister Hristo Terziyski’s mute refusal to provide details on the case under a FOIA request. We will continue to closely monitor the case, as police actions and the subsequent failure of the law enforcement institutions to guarantee a fair and objective investigation constitute not only a press freedom violation, but also a threat to basic civil rights.
Find out more details about the case in the video, covering Kenarov’s quest for justice.