The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today urged Bulgarian authorities to investigate the arrest of Bulgarian freelance journalist Dimiter Petzov following claims the arrest was staged to intimidate him.
Petzov, an award-winning investigative journalist focusing on local corruption in Bulgaria, was arrested on May 2 on charges of illegal drug possession. He was detained for 24 hours after local police officers allegedly found 11.7 grams of ecstasy, 7.2 grams of heroin, 13 grams of amphetamine and 7.2 grams of cannabis in his car, according to news reports.
Petzov has questioned the legitimacy of his arrest and accused the local authorities of framing him. In an interview for dnevnik.bg on May 6, he claimed that his arrest was baseless, carried out without presence of witnesses, and added that he suspected it was related to a story he had previously written. He also denied having obtained drugs or suffering from an addiction.
In 2017, Petzov was awarded the Golden Key award for his contribution to freedom of information. He has also been an associate of the Anti-Corruption Fund in Bulgaria for two years.
Intimidation and interference with the work of independent and investigative journalists is not uncommon in Bulgaria. According to an IPI analysis published earlier this year, critical journalists in Bulgaria have faced legal harassment and smear campaigns in retaliation for their work. In March, IPI reported on the case of a newspaper editor left unconscious after being beaten with metal pipes. In 2018, Petzov himself suffered a broken arm when he attacked at his home by an unknown man armed with a metal pipe.
“We urge Bulgarian authorities to clarify the circumstances related to the arrest of Dimiter Petzov through a speedy and transparent investigation”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Should the investigation confirm fears that his arrest was staged or manipulated, those responsible must be held to account. The harassment of investigative journalists represents a serious attack on the public’s right to information.”
IPI is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), supported by the European Commission, which tracks, monitors and responds to threats to journalists and violations of press and media freedom across Europe.