The Bulgarian government have been called out for their use of violence against journalists and media workers that are covering the ongoing anti-government protests in the capital of Sofia.
On 2 September, citizens took to the street to protest against corruption and abuse of power. They called for the resignation of the government led by Boyko Borissov and the Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev. According to reports, police used increasingly militarized tactics against protestors, something that is being seen increasingly across Europe. Multiple eyewitness accounts indicate that police used excessive force against journalists and media workers.
Freelance journalist Dimitar Kenarov was dragged across the pavement, kicked in the face and head, had his camera damaged and disappeared, and was detained. He repeatedly identified himself as a journalist and had a clearly visible “PRESS” sign on his mask, but this was ignored by authorities. He was handcuffed on the ground for hours before being taken to a police station, given a warning, and then released. He was denied access to a lawyer.
The Association for European Journalists in Bulgaria said that another journalist, Nikolay Doychinov was assaulted with police batons.
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom said that police failed to identify and respond appropriately to journalists covering the protests. Tear gas was used indiscriminately against journalists from various media outlets during the protests. A number of media workers required medical assistance as a result.
The ECPMF said:
“Journalists and media workers play a vital function when covering public protests, by ensuring independent scrutiny is afforded to all movements and reinforcing the importance of the fundamental right to protest and free assembly. ECPMF calls on the Bulgarian authorities to thoroughly and transparently investigate all reported cases of excessive use of force against journalists and bring those behind acts of violence to justice. “
Earlier this year, Albanian police used significant force against journalists reporting on the demolition of the National Theatre and the following protests. Several journalists were assaulted and detained while covering the event. Also, during the anti-government protests of 2019, many journalists reported being impacted by tear gas and there were incidents were police allegedly assaulted media workers.