Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is concerned by the confiscation of the news bulletin Macedonia Voice by police forces in Bulgaria on January 31, and we call on Bulgarian authorities to fully investigate this matter.
According to reports in the local press, and a statement issued by United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) based in Washington, D.C., officers of the State Agency for National Security (DANS) entered the Iranik-M printing house in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria on the morning of January 31. No official warrants were provided as DANS officers confiscated all copies on hand of the recently printed issue of Macedonia Voice (2,500 copies). DANS detained the Printing House Manager Stojan Nikolov Mihailon and employee Ivajlo Ljubchov Mitev, taking them to DANS offices. Both were interrogated into the evening, and forced to write explanations for printing the bulletin, prior to their release.
The bulletin is a non-profit publication, and focuses on topics related to the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Multiple sources, including Macedonia Voice Stojko Stojkov, have indicated that the bulletin has not published material which could be deemed radical or unlawful. The confiscated issue of Macedonia Voice was dedicated to the Bulgarian Census, which began the next day on February 1 and continues throughout the month. Individuals of Macedonian heritage were encouraged in the bulletin to participate in the census, and to register themselves as Macedonians.
The copies of the confiscated bulletin have not been returned and the publishers of Macedonia Voice have filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutors Office. DANS has not given any reasons for their actions, nor has the Bulgarian government issued any statements. The Macedonian International News Agency (MINA) stated the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior Affairs was not aware of the event, as it was not registered by the police. The Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) verified that the Ministry has indicated it will open an investigation into the matter. MINA reported that it is commonplace for Bulgarian police not to register actions which involve Macedonians.
Canadian journalist Bill Yancoff who also produces Macedonian Heritage Hour for OMNI Television told CJFE that this isn’t the first time he has heard of Macedonian journalists being targeted in the region. “In Canada we take multiculturalism and basic human rights and freedoms for granted…Bulgaria is using intimidation and fear to deny the publication of a Macedonian language newspaper for the country's large Macedonian minority”.
In the Reporters Without Borders 2010 Press Freedom Index, Bulgaria was issued a ranking of 70 out of 178, making it one of the lowest ranked countries within the European Union. Bulgaria’s ranking in the Index has declined each year over the past four years. Recent free expression violations include the February 14 bombing of the weekly newspaper Galaria in the capital city of Bulgaria, Sofia. Galaria has reported critically on the Bulgarian government and corruption among high-ranking officials. Additional free expression violations in Bulgaria can be found on the IFEX Bulgaria page: http://ifex.org/bulgaria.
Recently, in April of 2010, journalists from the Republic of Macedonia were denied entry into Bulgaria when attempting to report on a celebration being held by the Macedonian minority. The reason cited for denying their entry was a lack of medical insurance, vouchers for a hotel or an official invitation to visit Bulgaria.
The targeting of Macedonia Voice is in violation of freedom of expression rights. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression supports a thorough investigation by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and urges Bulgarian authorities to protect the rights of all journalists.