Yet another attack against freedom of speech in Bulgaria

Lawsuit against Bivol in Greece over article about the Badr tanker

Court cases against our publication discussed at conference hosted by Word Press Institute and Association of European Journalists
Nikolay Marchenko
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Lawsuits against the investigative reporting outlet Bivol were among the cases discussed at the  New Horizons in Journalism international conference, hosted by the World Press Institute and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) on 1 December 2022 in Sofia. Bivol’s lawyer Alexander Kashamov informed the international audience that in addition to the 1 million BGN claim against us, there is now another lawsuit, constituting yet another attack against freedom of speech in Bulgaria. 

Two lawsuits against Bivol qualify as examples of what has become known by the English abbreviation SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation), the human rights legal expert explained. Alexander Kashamov, who represents Bivol in court, is also head of the legal team at the Access to Information Programme.

The discussion panel on SLAPP as an attack against press freedom was moderated by Maria Cheresheva, vice president of AEJ Bulgaria. Among the panelists were also Flutura Kusari, senior legal advisor at the European Centre for Press and |Media Freedom, Lora Georgieva, coordinator of the law programme at the Anti-Corruption Fund, and Mediapool editor-in-chief Stoyana Georgieva.

Lawsuits against Bivol, Mediapool and Capital

“Powrful interests are working to bend public opinion, control the narrative and pressure journalists through scare tactics such as lawsuits against public participation,” AEJ observed in view of the need for a debate on the issue.

Alexander Kashamov presented examples of legal attacks against Bulgarian media through SLAPP, focusing on three specific cases – the lawsuits against Bivol, Mediapool and Capital.

The legal expert also recapped last year’s dicussion on SLAPPs at an event hosted by the European Parliament, where there were two ceses of “bad news” from Bulgaria.

Lies and Guilty Silence of Ministry of Interior about BADR

“One of them was Mediapool being sentenced to pay 60 000 BGN, and the other – a lawsuit against Bivol filed by Eurohold.

The Bivol case is a 2021 claim from the leading insurance company in Bulgaria, seeking 1 million BGN in compensation for non-material damages for having been mentioned in publications. It was put forward as a partial claim for the initial amount of 50 000 BGN.

New SLAPP case against Bivol

It turns out there is now another piece of bad news for freedom of speech in Bulgaria, this time involving a complicated legal procedure. In the summer of 2022 another SLAPP case against Bivol was initiated in Greece but some of the investigation work was delegated to the Bulgarian Public Prosecution.

The case involves a Bivol publication from a few years ago, one of a series of investigations into the hijacking of the Lybian tanker Badr. A party implicated in the investigation complained to the Greek court that one of the published documents contained their perosnal data.

Bulgarian Interior Ministry Sacks Policeman Who Hijacked Libyan Tanker

“The other court case against Bivol is an obvious revenge attempt for an investigation they carried out a few years ago, as a result of which a tanker vessel was arrested on the Bulgarian coast”,

Alexander Kashamov explained.

He pointed out that ‘the boomerang’ against Bivol was now coming back from Greece. Because someone found out that a ruling by the Greek court, which Bivol had published, contained actual personal data of the suspect, Kashamov explained.

It is not clear why the Greek suspect never directly responded to the publication of their personal data in the article and never asked Bivol to remove it. Instead they waited for several years and only then, when the case was all but forgotten, took their complaint directly to the court.

Kashamov pointed out that Greece is a rare example of a EU country in which publishing personal data is a criminal offence: “They initiated criminal proceedings and delegated the collection of evidence to the Bulgarian public procecution, which is only too happy to be able to investigate Bivol.

“To their misfortune Bulgaria has not criminalised the violation of regulations regarding the protection of personal data…”

Alexander Kashamov further explained that in this situation the Greek authorities and the Bulgarian procecution were using EU directives on transborder cooperation in the area of criminal justice. “This is now a court trial that is pending,” the legal expert explained.

Not Pirates But Corsairs: Who Hijacked Libyan Tanker BADR?

As the lawsuits against Bivol are still ongoing, we can not reveal any more detail but we will provide all of it to attorney Kashamov who is our legal representative on both cases.

The Bivol investigative reporting team is asking our readers to make donations so that we can cover our expenses on these scandalous lawsuits and so that we are able to continue to exist in general, carrying on with our work of exposing corruption.

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