In Bulgaria, bomb explodes at home of investigative journalist

New York, April 6, 2006—An early morning explosion today rocked the Sofia apartment of Vasil Ivanov, a Nova Television investigative reporter who recently uncovered abuse of inmates in Sofia Central Prison, local and international press reports said. No injuries were reported, but the bomb caused extensive damage.

The 2-pound (1 kilogram) bomb was detonated around 3 a.m. outside the door to Ivanov’s apartment, shattering the walls and destroying furniture. Ivanov was not at home and his mother and sister, who were sleeping inside, were not injured. The blast also damaged the building’s elevators, windows, and common areas, the news Web side Mediapool reported.

Ivanov, 33, edits and reports for the program “Temata na Nova” (Nova’s Theme), where he has covered sensitive subjects such as high-level corruption and abuse of office, Krasimira Krasteva, director of Nova Television’s news department, told CPJ today.

“The entire Bulgarian press corps is shaken by this brutal attack on our colleague,” Krasteva told CPJ.

Ivanov’s latest report was a two-part series on inmate abuse in the Bulgarian capital’s main prison. The series, which aired on “Temata na Nova” over the past three weeks, prompted the Ministry of Justice to begin an internal probe and fire the prison’s director. The report described prisoners sexually abusing and humiliating other inmates, allegedly with prison officials’ knowledge. Ivanov filmed the abuse using a phone camera, local press reports said.

Ivanov received anonymous threats several months ago, Krasteva said, following an investigation into illegal car sales. The Ministry of Interior assigned police protection to Ivanov in response to the threats. Authorities also launched a criminal probe into the car sales and made one arrest. “It is not just that he [Ivanov] uncovers corruption,” Krasteva said. “It’s also the fact that his reports produce results and lead to consequences for the corrupt.”

Ivanov told colleagues today that he is determined to continue working. He also met with Bulgarian Minister of Interior Rumen Petkov, who assured him that the attack will be investigated thoroughly, Krasteva said.

The bombing comes at a sensitive political time. To gain acceptance into the European Union, Bulgaria must demonstrate that it can crack down on corruption and organized crime. The EU will decide on May 16 whether to grant Bulgaria entry in 2007 or delay it by another year.

“We call on Bulgarian authorities to aggressively investigate the motives behind this attack on our colleague Vasil Ivanov and bring the perpetrators to justice,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.