The Bulgarian freelance investigative journalist Hristo Geshov said he received threats and at least two news outlets published articles attacking him and shared explicit videos and photos of him after he reported on an allegedly illegal water supply and sewage system at the Chiflika resort complex in Troyan, central Bulgaria. He also said that unknown men briefly abducted him on May 14, 2019 and released him after a news website removed his story. The police and his publisher started an investigation into his claims of abduction.
In an interview on May 18, 2019, conducted in Bulgarian and translated into an English summary for CPJ by the local investigative site Bivol, Geshov said that he received an anonymous threat on social media and that separately, some Bulgarian news outlets published sexually explicit videos of him and described him as a threat to the country.
Geshov said that on February 25, 2019, three days after his investigative report was published on the regional news site Zov News on February 22, he received death threats on Facebook. A private message, from a user the journalist does not know, said, "I'll put your head on a stake," and "I will rip your stomach out and walk your guts around the streets of Troyan as the last memory of free speech."
In May 2019, the newspapers Blitz and TroyanPress published articles attacking Geshov. Both outlets mentioned his investigative reporting in Troyan.
The tabloid Blitz published articles in print and online, which CPJ has reviewed, on May 14, 15, and 16 along with sexually explicit videos of Geshov, and described the journalist as "disgusting", "perverse" and as someone who does harm to Bulgaria. On May 14 and May 15, 2019, a local online news site in Troyan, TroyanPress, published photos, and on May 23, 2019, it published an article that compared Geshov to animals.
The videos and pictures were widely shared on other online outlets and social media, according to Geshov's statement and CPJ's review of the platforms.
Geshov is under police protection after authorities started an investigation into a former mayor after one of the journalist's reports on a separate issue. The journalist was given protected witness status on March 20, 2019, after a public prosecutor started an investigation into Danail Valov, the former mayor of Cherven Bryag, in northern Bulgaria. Valov was removed from office following Geshov's investigations in 2018 on alleged corruption in Cherven Bryag's municipal government, including irregularities involving European Union funds. Geshov was beaten outside his home on May 10, 2018, after he reported on the alleged corruption, CPJ documented at the time.
In his statement to CPJ, Geshov said that he was contacted by an unknown individual on May 14, 2019, who threatened that if Geshov failed to follow instructions, the journalist's mother and sister would be killed. Geshov said that on May 14, he left without his police protection and drove to a location specified by the unidentified individual. There, he met three men who drove him in their car all night, until his report on the illegal water supply was removed from the Zov News website the following day.
On May 14, 2019, Zov News and Bivol said that Geshov had disappeared. Zov News editor-in-chief Maria Dimitrova told the daily newspaper Sega that Geshov's mother and sister had contacted her earlier that day saying they were unable to establish contact with the reporter.
Dimitrova told the news website Mediapool that she received a phone call early on May 15 from a man who did not identify himself, who asked that she remove the article and the video of Geshov's investigation on the alleged illegal water supply and sewage system in exchange for Geshov's release. Dimitrova told Mediapool that she removed the article from Zov News and the video from YouTube on May 15, 2019.
CPJ could not independently verify the journalist's account of his abduction.
In a written statement to CPJ on May 17, 2019, Zov News said that it was investigating Geshov's disappearance.
Geshov has testified about the incident to the Bulgarian national police, Mediapool reported. The police and the prosecutor's office have not publicly commented on the case, according to the report.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, did not respond to CPJ's emailed questions.