More than 100 Bulgarian journalists and citizens gathered on Monday in front of the main courthouse in downtown Sofia [Palace of Justice] on 1st April to protest against actions by state prosecutors that represent a violation of the right to freedom of speech. The protest was in support of crime reporter Boris Mitov who was twice summoned for questioning by prosecutors in relation to his critical reporting on a wiretapping scandal involving Sofia’s vice-chief prosecutor Roman Vassilev and the head of the state legal authority Sotir Tsatsarov.
On 29th Mars, just hours after he published his article headlined “Bulgaria’s Watergate: who will examine the examiner?”on the website Mediapool.bg, disclosing legal documents that had already been declassified, Mitov was called into the prosecutor’s office and asked to hand in the documents concerned and to name the source who provided him with the information. When he refused, stating that the information has been declassified by the Court, the journalist says he was threatened with prosecution on the grounds of breach of confidence and disclosing a state secret. He was also told to appear for questioning again on Monday.
The threat of legal action against Mitov was quickly condemned by other journalists and human rights defenders as a blatant breach of the right of freedom of expression, protected by Article 10 of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In its official position on the case, AEJ-Bulgaria cited the ECHR’s decision in Goodwin v. the United Kingdom, 27 March 1996, No 16/1994/463/544in which the Court stated that the principle of protection of journalists’ sources is a basic principle of the freedom of the press without which the press would be deprived of its vital role as a watchdog and the media’s ability to provide accurate and trustworthy information would be seriously undermined. In addition, in the case of Sanoma Uitgevers B.V. v. the Netherlands the Court stated that the prosecutor’s office cannot be considered impartial in such investigations as it protects interests that are incompatible with the protection of journalists’ sources of information. Therefore, the court concluded, the prosecutors cannot force journalists to disclose the identity of their informants..
AEJ-Bulgaria called on the prosecutors to refrain from any further actions that may be in breach of the ruling of the Strasbourg Court, which applies directly to institutions in all the countries that have ratified the Convention. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and numerous human rights lawyers also condemned the action.
The demonstration was in reaction to the summons which obliged Boris Mitov to appear before the prosecutors again in spite of the earlier protests. It turned out that the prosecutor in charge denied threatening the journalist with any legal proceeding and he left the building with his lawyer just few minutes later after signing papers that he was refusing to reveal his sources. According to the reporter, the case seems closed and he won’t be held in charge of his publication.