AEZ-Bulgaria is monitoring the events surrounding the protest of football fans against the leadership of the Bulgarian Football Union, which took place on November 16 and led to aggression and pogroms in the capital. As a result of the tension, dozens of citizens and law enforcement officers were injured, and 38 protesters were detained. Unfortunately, we have also witnessed acts of police violence and actions bordering on arbitrariness against citizens and journalists covering the events, including against our members.
AEJ has collected data on several incidents related to journalists and calls on other colleagues who have become targets or witnesses of violence to contact us. Our team will check and systematize the information that will be presented to the responsible institutions and our international partners.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
The reporter of the online publication Gospodari.com Dani Yordanov was deliberately hit with batons 2-3 times by the police in the area of ”General Gurko” street while broadcasting live, although he says he is from the media (he does not wear a “PRESS” sign ), and the operator Mario Gospodinov is next to him; the operator was also hit with a baton.
The scene is seen after 59:27 of the live broadcast of “Masters of the Air”. Dani Yordanov, who is holding a microphone with the logo of the program, and next to him is the operator, repeatedly and loudly says “Media, media!”, but is hit in the stomach by at least two policemen. One of them is heard shouting “What are you doing here?”.
The police tried to force the photojournalist of “Dnevnik” Georgi Kojuharov to delete his photos (he refused, and after the intervention of other journalists, the police withdrew). The incident took place in the area of the church “St. Septuagints”. Kozhuharov, wearing a helmet emblazoned with the words “PRESS,” filmed policemen pulling a boy out and slamming his head into a trash can. After they noticed that he was taking pictures, a police officer who did not identify himself went to Kozhuharov and ordered him to delete the pictures immediately. Kozhuharov calls out to the nearby NOVA TV crew and says that they are making him delete the pictures, and then the policeman retreats. He explained that the police purposefully prevented the photojournalists from working by chasing them with threats “Get out, don’t eat your paint!” and intentionally hitting through the camera.
The reporter of the sports show on Darik Radio Nikolay Ganchev was briefly detained by the police along with protesters and bystanders in the area of the Sports Palace. Ganchev witnessed how the police invaded the territory of a private object – “Bar 75” – and began to broadcast live. He was pushed by a policeman who shouted to him “Go, go, go!”, although the colleague declared that he was a journalist and tried to identify himself with a press card. They find themselves squeezed in a small alley, parallel to “General Gurko” Street, where law enforcement officials detain the protesters (among whom there are also passers-by), forcing them to lie down on the ground. After about 15 minutes, Ganev was released after the police noticed his badge – accreditation for the match between Bulgaria and Hungary. Ganchev does not stop broadcasting live with the camera on. Julian Sutev, a reporter for Darik Radio News, was with him all the time, who was hit several times with a baton when the protesters were pushed out. Sutev specified that he simply accompanied Ganev and identified himself as a journalist only when the police began to release the detainees. He sought medical help for his injuries and is about to obtain a document from Forensic Medicine. You can see the live broadcast of Darik Radio.
A photojournalist from an international news agency, who wished to remain anonymous (his name is withheld by AEZ), was sprayed in the face by a police officer. The incident occurred during the dispersal of “Bar 75”, at “Ivan Vazov” street. After a police officer demanded an account from the photographer as to why he had not photographed scenes of violence against the officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, another uniformed officer approached the photojournalist and sprayed him in the face at a distance of 50 cm. He has medical documentation, continues to be treated.
The press center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs told AEJ that, by order of the director of the Internal Security Service, an internal investigation has begun, within the framework of which all materials related to the police actions during the protests will be examined. We call on the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to review this decision, because the practice of the Ministry of Internal Affairs checking itself for police violence, including against journalists, has not shown effectiveness.
Unfortunately, these are not the only examples of police violence against journalists working on the ground during unrest that we document. We remind you that our colleague Dimitar Kenarov was brutally beaten and illegally detained by law enforcement officers while covering the mass anti-government protests on the night of September 2nd and 3rd, 2020. His illegal arrest was recognized after a legal saga that lasted nearly a year and half, with a decision of February 4, 2022 of the Sofia District Court. Until a court decision is reached, however, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has repeatedly refused to disclose the results of its internal investigations into the case, and the prosecutor’s office has refused to open an investigation.
Therefore, we call for an independent investigation of the cases from the evening of November 16, in order to avoid the vicious practice of the authorities of the Ministry of Internal Affairs checking and, accordingly, covering up their own employees.