Freedom of expression has hit a new low in Bulgaria. The former Co-Chair of our local Green member party Zelenite, Borislav Sandov, was found guilty of insult for calling Lachezar Tzotzorkov, the chair of a control board of a copper mining company, an ‘oligarch-poisoner’ on his personal Facebook account. His sentence? A total fine of €2.250, of which he needs to pay €1.500 to the complainant and €750 to the state.
As a result, Borislav Sandov had to prove his reasoning behind the use of the term ‘poisoner’ and explain why he used it. He proved the link to the gold mining companies’ activities and the enormous amounts of fines it’s already received for poisoning waters close to the mine, thus providing a sufficient explanation. Rightly so, he didn’t receive a sentence for defamation, which was the original claim. However, he did get sentenced for insult.
This court sentence feels unjustified, repressive and illogical. Freedom of speech got caught in a negative spiral. Over the last 10 years Bulgaria has dropped from 35th to the 106th place on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This index is a survey conducted in 180 different countries, so the 106th spot isn’t a spot to envy. Bulgaria has the worst rank in comparison to all other EU Member States.
This situation isn’t a new phenomenon. Previously, red flags already started to rise as Bulgaria quickly regressed to become the worst EU Member State in terms of freedom of press and speech. Foreign media owners are gradually retreating from the country. Notably, 5 years ago the then biggest foreign media outlet, WestDeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, sold off all its assets. The explanation for the sale was telling. Their director said that they were withdrawing because of a “widespread abuse of power” and “the close intertwining of oligarchs and political power, which is poisoning the market”.
This court case of Mr. Sandov created turbulence and unrest on social media. People were questioning how the situation in Bulgaria is evolving. It isn’t the first time things like this have happened. It seems Bulgaria is heading towards a situation where the wings of freedom of speech are gradually being clipped and personal opinions are being met with legal prosecution.
We, the European Greens, believe that freedom of speech is an integral part of the European society. It is clear something is going wrong and has been going wrong for quite some time. We add our voice and support Borislav Sandov’s cause. We expect his appeal will result in a ruling in his favour. A ruling in favour of basic human and political rights.