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Police officers are seen in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 17, 2020. Police recently journalist Dimiter Petzov for alleged drug posession after searching his car. (Reuters/Stoyan Nenov)

Bulgarian investigative journalist arrested for drug possession days after filing information request

May 21, 2020 11:45 AM ET

Berlin, May 21, 2020 -- Bulgarian authorities should immediately drop all charges against journalist Dimiter Petzov and let him work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 2, police in the town of Silistra, in northeastern Bulgaria, pulled over Petzov, a freelance investigative journalist, and searched his car, according to a report by the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Petzov told the broadcaster that the officers performed an “imitation of a search” and within one minute found a bag containing heroin, amphetamines, marijuana, and ecstasy, which Petzov said he had never seen before.

On May 13, prosecutors in Silistra charged Petzov with drug possession, and a local court ordered him not to leave town without authorities’ permission, according to regional news website Balkan Insight. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of up to five years, according to the Bulgarian criminal code.

The journalist told RFE/RL that his arrest came after he submitted a freedom of information request on April 28 to the regional directorate of the Ministry of Interior in Silistra, seeking to reveal the identity of an anonymous donor who provided food and drinks to police officers guarding checkpoints in the city. He said he suspected that the arrest was an attempt to intimidate him.

On May 11, the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, ordered an investigation into the circumstances of Petzov’s arrest, according to RFE/RL.

"It is quite a coincidence that Bulgarian police allegedly found Dimiter Petzov possessing drugs days after he sought information for an investigation into the police force,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. "Bulgarian authorities must thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Petzov’s arrest, drop the charges against him, and allow him to report and travel freely.”

Petzov publishes his reporting in regional outlets including the Silistra-News website, where he recently covered local politics and alleged government corruption in the town. He also writes reports and files freedom of information requests relating to local government issues for the Anti-Corruption Fund, an independent nongovernmental group, according to the U.S. broadcaster.

In February, he reported to authorities that the local coordinator for the ruling GERB party threatened to "crush" him, but authorities refused to initiate proceedings against the coordinator, according to RFE/RL.

CPJ emailed the press office of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior for comment, but did not receive any reply.