Crushed by the Police
Journalist Dimitar Kenarov was brutally kicked in the head by police during anti-corruption riots in Sofia, Bulgaria, on the night of September 2, 2020. Earlier in the day reporters suffered from pepper spray used by the police against citizens, protesting against corruption and nepotism and demanding the resignation of the government led by Boyko Borissov and of the country’s recently instated Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev.
Earlier on September 2, 2020, the Bulgarian police and gendarmerie applied indiscriminately pepper spray and other gas against protesters. Journalists from various mass media were affected and suffered eye inflammations of various degrees. National network bTV’s reporter Kanna Racheva, cameraman Borislav Mavrov and photographer Ladislav Tsvetkov were among those harmed. The Association of European Journalists in Bulgaria (AEJ) also reports of other illegal police actions against journalists, including damaged photographic equipment of reporters.
In a comment for BlueLink Stories Racheva described the attitute of the police unnecessary and unexplainable. “When officers are using such sprays, they should at least tell the ingridends of the compound, so that [affected] people could get help faster”, she appealed.
Dimitar Kenarov, an international freelance journalist, writer and poet, was assaulted violently by the police. His camera was broken. He was handcuffed and kicked in the head by Bulgaria’s officers of law. He was and then held on the sidewalk for hours, although he repeatedly identified himself as a reporter and member of the press. “While reporting on the protests in Sofia today I was grabbed by the police, throughn on the ground and brutally kicked in the head,” he wrote in his Twitter profile, posting a picture with the bruises from police violence on his face.
The incidents took place during a culmination of anti-government and anti-corruption protests in Bulgaria which escalated on September 2 when the Parliament re-opened after the summer recess in a new venue. The assembly took place for the first time in a building, known as the Party House – the former headquarters of the Bulgarian Communist Party which ruled unilaterally during the authoritarian period of 1944 – 1989. The Stalinist-style building in the centre of Sofia’s government district was refurbished to host the National Assembly.
The relocation was used to severely limit the access of journalists to members of Parliament. The AEJ issued a statement, complaining that the new rules limit reporters’ ability to critically report and turns them further into propaganda pawns for the government and politicians.
In the evening after the Parliament’s first assembly in the Party House police forces cleared the perimeter in front of the building. Kenarov was in the front line with other colleagues taking pictures. He was then pushed to the wall of the President’s Office, which is next door to the Party House.
Although he had a camera and a PRESS sign clearly visible on his mask, he was detained and dragged across the square to the stairs of the new Parliament building. He wrote in facebook that during his detention he tried to identify himself repeatedly. His please were ignored by the police and he was brutally kicked by at least two uniformed men, mostly in the head and face, where his main injuries were. He screamed that he can’t breathe, but that did not stop the rough treatment and handcuffing he was subjected to. The journalist was then kept on the sidewalk for several hours, most of the time in handcuffs.
In addition to injuries to his face and head, Kenarov’s camera was taken away , broken, and left on the ground while he was handcuffed and detained. It then disappeared.
Throughout the period of his detention, Kenarov showed his journalist card several times and explained to every law enforcement officer he had access to that he was a journalist. One of the employees even took his card and spoke to show it to his boss, but to no avail – the card was returned and Kenarov remained in the square. In the early hours of September 3, 2020, he was moved to a police van, where, according to his account, he stayed for almost an hour, as all district police departments were full. Later he was transported to the Fifth Police Department in Sofia, where he was handed a warning report and released.
Although he was in fact detained for hours, Dimitar Kenarov was not served with a detention order and denied access to a lawyer. Traces of police violence are clearly visible in the photo that Dimitar Kenarov posted on his Twitter account after his release.
AEJ, BlueLink and other media freedom groups condemned the use of force against journalists by Bulgaria’s law-enforcement officers. AEJ has committed to provide legal support to Kenarov.
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