Stoyan Tonchev, owner of the local news website Zad Kulisite (Behind the Scenes), was leaving a friend’s apartment in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort town of Pomorie at around 11 p.m. on January 14, 2015, when at least one man brutally beat him with a blunt object, according to local press reports.
Tonchev told the news website Delo that a man dressed in black and wearing a hat repeatedly hit him on the head with a blunt object while asking, “How long will you keep writing?” The attack left Tonchev with a skull fracture, a concussion, a broken nose, and multiple hematomas that disfigured his face, the local press reported. He was hospitalized for two weeks and underwent at least one reconstructive surgery, according to the journalist’s Facebook page, where he posted updates throughout his recovery.
Tonchev, 31, is known in Pomorie for his investigations into alleged corruption and abuse of power in the city’s administration, as well as for his participation in October 2015 municipal elections, when he ran as a crusader against corruption and organized crime.
In multiple interviews with Bulgarian reporters, Tonchev said he was certain the attack was in retaliation for his writing on Zad Kulisite, and accused the Pomorie police of carrying out an ineffective investigation into the attack, which he called an attempt on his life in an interview with Bulgarian national broadcaster Nova Televiziya.
Speaking to a reporter from the news website Blitz, Tonchev criticized investigators for purportedly focusing on his personal life while, he said, neglecting to probe his journalism as a possible motive for the crime. Local police and the prosecutors’ offices in Pomorie and the regional city of Burgas said they were working together to thoroughly investigate the case, Nova Televiziya reported.
The Regional Directorate of the Ministry of Interior in Burgas reported on January 16, 2016 that it was holding two suspects in Tonchev’s beating but divulged no further details, according to the local press. The suspects were released 24 hours later for lack of sufficient evidence to justify their continued detention, the national daily 24 Chasa (24 Hours) reported.
Bulgaria has a record of physical attacks against journalists that have never been punished. CPJ has documented at least eight such assaults that have been carried out with impunity over the past decade, including two murders, three bombing attacks, and a near-lethal beating.