A police officer sprays pepper gas during a demonstration in Sofia, Bulgaria, on September 2, 2020. Several journalists were attacked at the protest. (AFP/Nikolay Doychinov)

Bulgarian riot police beat and pepper spray journalists covering demonstrations

Berlin, September 3, 2020 — Bulgarian authorities should swiftly and thoroughly investigate police attacks on journalists, hold those responsible to account, and ensure that reporters can cover protests freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday evening, while breaking up an anti-government protest in Sofia, the capital, riot police officers attacked and briefly detained Dimiter Kenarov, a freelance reporter, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Officers also hit Nikolay Doychinov, a photojournalist for Agence France-Presse, in the back with batons and damaged his camera, according to a report by the Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria, an independent trade group.

Police also fired pepper spray that affected several journalists and television crews including Nikolay Minkov, a reporter at the public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, according to that report.

“Journalists must be able to cover protests in Bulgaria without fear that they will be attacked or detained by police,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Authorities must investigate allegations of police abuse of journalists, and hold any officers responsible to account.”

Kenarov told CPJ that he was filming and photographing the protests when four riot police officers approached him and he showed them his press ID. He said they ignored that ID and his “Press” face mask, handcuffed him, pinned him to the ground, and kicked him several times in the face.

The officers detained him at a nearby police station for several hours and then released him without charge at 4:30 this morning, he told CPJ.

Kenarov suffered bruises and scrapes on his face and head, as seen in a photo he posted on Twitter. He was treated in an emergency room for his injuries, and plans to file a police complaint today, he told CPJ.

Anti-government protests demanding the resignations of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev over their alleged links to organized crime have been ongoing since July, according to reports.

CPJ emailed the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior, which oversees the police, for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.