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Bulgaria29 September 2008

Threats against Frognews stepped up. Censored website Opasnite.net reappears on Opasnite.eu

Deputy editor of Frognews, Alexander Ivanov has told Nova Televizia television that his editor Ognyan Stefanov, victim of a murder attempt on 23 September, had received insistent calls from the National Security Agency (DANS) a few days before the attack. Ivanov also said on 26 September programme that he had recently received anonymous telephoned threats in which he was told : “We are not going to kill you but the same thing could happen to you as happened to your boss.”

Journalist Dimitar Zlatov, who took part in the television programme by telephone, said that he had received the same threats.

Frognews editor Onyan Stefanov, was brutally attacked in Sofia by four men who beat him with iron bars and hammers. His assailants are believed to belong to a criminal gang known as “the Hammers”, which specialises in breaking the arms and legs of victims. The onslaught against editorial staff of Frognews follows the closure of the website Opasnite.net which posted “classified” news about corruption cases. A journalist on Frognews, Yorgo Petsas was arrested on 5 September 2008, and questioned for seven hours by the National Security Agency which suspects the editorial team of Frognews of being behind the creation of Opasnite.net.

Yorgo Petsas declined to take part in the broadcast on Nova Televizia for fear of reprisals. Apart from the threatening calls, the journalist is being sued by taxi firm S-Express which is claiming a million euros in damages. The company, quoted in the articles posted on Opasnite, was said to be spying on customers of a criminal gang. Around 100 journalists, bloggers and citizens demonstrated in front of the interior ministry on 25 September in response to an appeal by Frognews. Deputy editor, Alexander Ivanov, read a statement signed by several Bulgarian journalists that the “physical assault against Onyan Stefanov is due to his investigative work into corruption and crime linked to the government”. A call was made for the launch of an independent organisation of Bulgarian journalists.

Elsewhere, in response to the direct threat to the right to inform the public, the Bulgarian NGO, The Anna Politkovskaya freedom of thought organisation (http://politkovskaya-bg.blogspot.com), decided to reopen the Opasnite.net website, which had been closed since 5 September 2008. The organisation retrieved content from the site in Google caches and on several Bulgarian blogs which had conserved them, and reposted them on the website Opasnite.eu.

The association believes that the DANS used illegal methods to close the website. Some of the documents posted on the site referred to cases of corruption and serious crimes that should be examined. The DANS has also said on several occasions that the documents were “classified”, recognising that they were news and not rumours. The association also wants the alleged links between the closure of Opasnite.net and the murder attempt against journalist Onyan Stefanov to be the subject of an in-depth investigation. Closure of the website would mean an unacceptable destruction of evidence.

In a letter to the Bulgarian foreign minister, Ivailo Kalfin, on 26 September the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative for media freedom, Miklos Haraszti, said he was “concerned about the brutal assault on investigative journalist Ognyan Stefanov and alarmed to note the frequency with which similar violent acts are being perpetrated against journalists in Bulgaria in the last few years”.

The Bulgarian parliament severely condemned the assault on the journalist. Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov said it represented a “challenge to the capacity of the state to guarantee the safety of its citizens”.




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