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Bulgaria19 November 2004

Romanian journalist freed on bail

George Buhnici of the privately-owned Romanian TV station Pro TV, who was arrested by the Bulgarian authorities on 16 November for using a concealed camera to film in a duty-free shop on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, was released on bail of about 2,500 euros today. Buhnici must stay in Bulgaria until the prosecutor’s office decides if he is to be tried for using a concealed camera without permission, for which he could be jailed for up to three years.


Journalist faces three years in prison for using concealed camera

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of Romanian journalist George Buhnici of the privately-owned TV station Pro TV, who was arrested by the Bulgarian authorities on 16 November for filming with a concealed camera in a duty-free shop on the Romanian-Bulgarian border. He faces up to three years in prison under Bulgarian law, which views use of a hidden camera as spying.

"This journalist is the victim of an absurd and archaic law which stipulates a punishment of utterly disproportionate severity for the use of a hidden camera, which is nonetheless a common practice by investigative journalists, Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to Bulgarian chief prosecutor Nikola Filchev.

"We call on you to do everything possible to secure Buhnici’s immediate release," the press freedom organisation added.

Buhnici was arrested along with his driver, Ovidiu Pavel, on the afternoon of 16 November on the border between Giurgi in Romania and Ruse in Bulgaria.

Pro TV said Buhnici used a hidden camera to film a cigarette trafficking in the duty-free shop. Bulgarian customs officials seized the camera and the video recording. The driver was released a few hours later, but Buhnici was placed in police custody in Ruse.

The Sofia prosecutor’s office is examining the confiscated material in order to decide what charge will be brought against him. Article 339 (a) of Bulgaria’s criminal code says anyone using "tools of espionage to acquire secret information" without specific authorisation is liable to up to three years in prison. A concealed camera is regarded as such a tool.

Buhnici’s detention was extended for another 72 hours yesterday evening to give the prosecutor’s office time to decide if he will be charged with "espionage."

Romania’s consul in Sofia, Victor Bojin, who has been able to see Buhnici, told Reporters Without Borders that his rights were being respected and that he hoped to be released. His lawyers said they expected that he would be fined and would be able to return home very soon.

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