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In Bulgaria, the court is an instrument of pressure against journalists

Rossen Bossev [Free Europe]

Rossen Bossev, who works for “Capital“ weekly and is one of the Bulgaria’s top investigative reporters, was sentenced for defamation and imposed a fine, for having slandered the former Chairman of the Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) Stoyan Mavrodiev. The court decision is symptomatic for the country with the most endangered media freedom in Europe after Russia, Turkey and Belarus.

The criminal conviction against the journalist was pronounced by the judge Petya Krancheva. Her decision is final. Bossev has written many articles about the scandals involving her. Krancheva is a criminal judge. She was among the closest magistrates to former Chairman of the Sofia City Court Vladimira Yaneva. The latter was convicted of allowing illegal wiretapping. Judge Krancheva was also suspected of illegal actions but she has managed to keep her position in the judicial system.

Krancheva has convicted Bossev for an interview with Nova TV. The journalist expressed his opinion that Mavrodiev was using the Financial Supervision Commission to repress the media “Capital” and “Dnevnik”. Bossev referred to the huge fines this commission had imposed on the two media, of the Economedia group.

Economedia is part of the Union of Publishers of Bulgaria, a small group of independent media that frequently come under attack from the media empire of Delyan Peevksi, but also by the state authorities.

Bulgarian publishers warn Brussels about increased pressure on few remaining free media

The judge decided that this was defamation, because the fines were imposed not by Mavrodiev but by his deputy. Bossev’s other statement, which led to the verdict, was that Mavrodiev is involved in the money laundering case against the famous drug trafficker Evelin Banev-Brendo. Indeed, Stoyan Mavrodiev was summoned as a witness in the case of Brendo. His signature was found in some of the documents used as evidence in the money laundering case.

In 2013, it was Bossev who first disclosed that Mavrodiev was summoned as a witness to the money laundering case. The journalist also wrote about the evidence of Mavrodiev’s connection with the defendants, using only the evidence in the case. Two years later, the Financial Supervision Commission imposed fines to the amount of €75,000 on “Capital“ and “Dnevnik“ for their investigations about malpractice in the bankrupt Corporate Commercial Bank. The court annuled the fines as illegal.

In 2015, Bossev commented that Mavrodiev was involved in the money laundering scheme, by making the crime easier. He also says that Mavrodiev used the Financial Supervision Commission to repress the media. The journalist supported his statement with the imposed fines.

According to Judge Krancheva, both claims are defamation, because according to her there is no evidence that Mavrodiev has tried to repress the media, and it was not him who imposed the fines. In his statement that Mavrodiev is connected to the money laundering, Bossev has also slandered Mavrodiev, the judge said, considering that there was no evidence that Mavrodiev was involved in the crime.

During the case, Bossev has repeatedly demanded that Judge Petya Krancheva should withdraw from the case because she is biased against him. He pointed out his critical articles about her that had surely influenced the judge. Krancheva replied that she has not read them. But she ordered Bossev to be hunted as a serious criminal. He was looked for at many addresses that he does not live at.

After the verdict was pronounced, “Capital” came up with a position to defend the journalist.

“We do not understand how making conclusions and judgments is a crime when based on facts. We believe that with such a decision by a court creates a dangerous precedent and jeopardizes journalism and freedom of expression,” the position says. Bossev will sue Bulgaria before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Hours before the news about Bossev’s conviction, Netinfo online media group manager, Hristo Hristov, revealed that journalists in the group were unacceptable influenced. He announced that the pressure had begun after Domuschievi brothers, who are among the richest Bulgarians, got the control over the media group.

Hristo Hristov denounces “an intensified intervention in the editorial policy of the online media Gong, Vesti and Darik News. “New Broadcasting Group” purchased by Kiril Domuschiev and his brother Georgi earlier this year owns 70% share in Netinfo. “Nova” owns a number of the most visited websites and one of the two largest televisions – Nova TV. The deal became fact after the Bulgarian authorities did not allow the Czech billionaire Petr Keller to buy the television.

“Fear leads to compromise, and compromise is the end of free journalism,” Hristov said in a statement posted on the company’s website. He explains that journalists are pressed to publish certain news “that has a lot of suspicious facts and questionable credibility”. Hours later he was suspended from his leading role in the online media.

The official position of the New Broadcasting Group is that “the facts stated by Hristo Hristov are unfair and manipulative. This is an abuse of freedom of speech that is important to the journalist community and the whole society”.

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