Berlin, June 2, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the filing of three criminal defamation suits against Bulgarian journalist Nickolay Stoyanov, and called on authorities to reform the country’s laws to decriminalize speech.
Since February, two subjects of Stoyanov’s reporting for the Bulgarian weekly Capital have filed criminal defamation suits over his reporting on their alleged participation in tax evasion schemes, according to a report by Capital and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Stoyanov, who edits and reports for the magazine, published articles in August and November 2020 alleging that Michael Tymvios, managing director of a Cyprus-based business consulting firm, had assisted Stoyan Mavrodiev, former head of the state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank, in hiding his taxable assets while in public office.
Mavrodiev filed two criminal defamation suits over that reporting on February 15, and Tymvios filed a third suit the following day, Stoyanov told CPJ.
If convicted of criminal defamation, Stoyanov could face a fine of up to 15,000 leva ($9,300) for each charge, according to the Bulgarian penal code. Stoyanov told CPJ that Mavrodiev is also seeking 40,000 leva ($25,000) in damages.
“Bulgaria should reform its antiquated criminal defamation laws, which unjustly penalize speech and are out of keeping with international trends,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Investigative journalists such as Nickolay Stoyanov are performing a public service, and must be able to work free from legal harassment.”
Stoyanov told CPJ that, in their suits, Mavrodiev said that the articles were part of a campaign by Capital against him, and Tymvios alleged that the coverage damaged his reputation as a foreign investor.
“All my reporting was made respecting the highest professional and ethical standards, and I reached out to Mavrodiev before publication but received no reply, and Tymvios replied to me only by threatening legal action,” Stoyanov told CPJ.
Mavrodiev resigned as head of the Bulgarian Development Bank on April 8, 2020, two days after Stoyanov published an article about a bank program that allegedly granted loans to companies based on their political connections, Capital reported at the time.
CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry, the Bulgarian Development Bank, Mavrodiev’s personal email address, and Tymvios at his professional email address for comment, but did not receive any replies.
Stoyanov told CPJ that the first hearing in his trial relating to Mavrodiev’s suit is scheduled for June 23.