The case of the two detained journalists – Dimatar Stoyanov from the Bulgarian “Bivol” website and the Romanian Attila Biro from the “Rise Project” sheds light on some concerning deficiencies the Interior Ministry’s structure.
According to their own testimonies, both had been taken into custody on Thursday night together with their lawyer, on the basis of a tip that they themselves had initially sent to the Interior Ministry. According to official Interior Ministry’s information, the journalists were not arrested, but rather taken to the police for the purposes of ID clearance. The actions of the police however, speak to the contrary and leave little in the way to doubt state repression on media freedom.
The detention warrants of the two journalists, unequivocally understood as official government documents, clearly go against the claims made by the Interior Ministry. These documents indicate that Dimitar and Attila were detained at 9:00 pm in the evening and released at 4:00 am on the morning of the following day. The stated legal basis for restricting their rights was the belief that they were committing a crime.
No less worrisome is the fact that the Interior Ministry seems to be lacking the necessary procedures to be followed in regards to journalists doing their job. Investigative journalism plays a crucial role in ensuring the supremacy of the law in a democratic society. Therefore the police should be assisting, rather than hampering the work of journalists. In this case, however, the journalists were arrested after tipping the police about an intended cover-up of corruption practices, but ended up being detained themselves. It wasn’t until the involvement of the Romanian consul in Bulgaria that the two journalists were finally released from custody after several intense hours spent clearing up the situation.
The lack of information coming out of the Ministry in the hours directly after the detention, together with the lack of an assigned for the purpose Ministry representative to respond to journalistic questions on this matter, caused serious concerns about state attempts to limit freedom of speech. These concerns were actually mirrored in countries outside Bulgaria and the case became a leading news story on the next day in Romania; what is more, on the following day some of the most reputable news outlets such as the New York Times and the Washington Post reported on it.
Another curious fact is that it wasn’t until the next morning that the chief secretary of the Interior Ministry – Mladen Marinov (nominated to become the next Interior Minister) – was notified by his subordinates on the matter. This speaks volumes on the Ministry’s inability to correctly assess and evaluate the intricacies of the journalistic work and the limitations that the police sets to their investigations.
Yet another interesting fact is that the story became news in Romania faster that it did in Bulgaria. This is particularly curious as the case involves Bulgarian institutions and two journalists following a lead on an alleged fraud of EU finds that robs the Bulgarian taxpayers. As a professional association we have no doubts regarding the need for journalistic investigations and the benefits they have on the greater society. We are going to do our best in order to ensure that as many people as possible in Bulgaria see this case as an attempt to limit the important work journalists do and therefore make sure such cases do not happen again.