Police officers are seen in Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 21, 2020. RFE/RL journalist Polina Paunova was recently attacked while covering a political conference in the city. (AFP/Nikolay Doychinov)

Bulgarian journalist attacked while covering ruling party conference

On August 5, 2020, at the conference of the ruling GERB party in Sofia, Bulgaria, an unidentified man attacked journalist Polina Paunova, a correspondent for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, according to news reports, a video of the incident posted to Facebook, and the journalist, who communicated with CPJ via email.

In the video, recorded by Genka Shikerova, a correspondent RFE/RL and for local independent broadcaster Alternativata TV, a masked man is seen approaching Paunova, manhandling her, grabbing her phone, and throwing it into the sky.

Shortly afterward, a man wearing a sticker from the party conference called Paunova “garbage,” and said that she was not wanted at the conference, according to a report by her employer.

Paunova and Shikerova, who also communicated with CPJ via email, both said that people in the crowd threatened them and made clear that they were not welcome at the conference. Shikerova said that she felt helpless as no one standing around helped them.

Paunova filed a complaint with police on the day of the attack, and told CPJ on September 2 that she had not received any update on the case. Shikerova said she was called by the police and gave witness testimony in the case.

Paunova said that she would not be deterred by the attack from doing her job, saying “when I have to work I do not have time to be afraid.”

CPJ emailed questions to the press department of GERB party and to the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the police, but did not receive any replies.

[Editor’s note:This article has been changed in its second paragraph to correct Shikerova’s employers.]