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Bulgarian Culture Minister Velislav Minekov

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging Bulgaria to take concrete action to support local media outlets that disseminate reliable news and information, saying the country “combines all of the problems for press freedom that exist in various parts of Europe.”

In a statement on September 27, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog cited “physical attacks and smear campaigns” against journalists, “impunity for crimes of violence” against them, judicial harassment, bias in public media, corruption, disinformation, lack of media pluralism, as well as “bias and opaqueness in the distribution of state aid to the media, to the detriment of independent media outlets.”

Bulgaria is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

As Bulgaria prepares to hold on November 14 its third parliamentary elections this year, along with a presidential vote, the head of RSF’s European Union and Balkans desk, Pavol Szalai, made a visit to Sofia last week “to press for a concerted effort to defend the right to news and information,” the group said.

While in Bulgaria’s capital, Szalai called on Culture Minister Velislav Minekov as well as other officials and leading national politicians to “implement measures to encourage reliable reporting and to support independent Bulgarian media outlets,” according to the statement.

Szalai asked Minekov, who is part of an interim government that was appointed pending the upcoming parliamentary polls, to “sanction media outlets that do not respect their legal obligations to declare income from public funding and certain donors in a dedicated central register.”

Szalai also called, among other things, for the creation of “a transparent and fair system for allocating state advertising.”

During a meeting with members of the Electronic Media Council (CEM), Szalai asked the public regulator to enforce the independence of Bulgaria’s public broadcast media, “especially public television, which distinguished itself by its support for the then government during the snap elections held in July.”

RSF also held talks with several leading political parties that are running in the upcoming elections, asking them to “make news reliability a key issue in their campaigns and, if elected, to consider implementing “measures to improve the physical safety of journalists and protect them against judicial harassment, including abusive lawsuits.”

Valentina Chupik

A migrant rights defender who has been held at an immigration detention center at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since September 25 says she might be jailed and even killed while in custody if she is deported back to her native Uzbekistan.

Valentina Chupik, who runs the migrant center Sunrise of the World in Moscow, told Current Time on September 27 that officers from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) informed her that she has been deprived of her refugee status since September 17 and banned from entering Russia for 30 years.

"The documents I was handed say I presented either false information or forged documents [to Russian authorities] when I applied for refugee status [in 2006], which...I consider to be absolute nonsense," Chupik said.

Chupik also said that an FSB officer told her that the situation she faces is most likely linked to "complaints by law enforcement officers" across Russia over her activities to protect the rights of labor migrants from Central Asia and her accusations of corruption among Russian migration authorities and police.

"I was not informed that my lawyer had tried to reach me.... Nobody is allowed to meet me at this point," Chupik said.

"I think if I am deported to Uzbekistan, I will be immediately placed in an SNB (National Security Service) basement...and eventually killed there," Chupik added.

She said she fled Uzbekistan in 2006 after local authorities tried to force her to give them half of the grants her human rights group was receiving from international organizations, which she refused.

"They then demanded that I shut down the organization. They demanded to give them the organization. Then they wanted me to hire their person as my organization's accountant. And my response was 'no,'" Chupik said, adding that she then was questioned for hours each day until early in the morning for six weeks straight.

Chupik also said that for the first time since she was detained after returning to Russia from a trip to Armenia, a guard had switched off the extremely bright light in her cell for more than four hours, allowing her to have more proper sleep.

In a statement on September 27, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that "the sudden timing and manner of Chupik’s refugee status revocation, combined with the attempt to ban her for 30 years, strongly indicate that the decision was not based on a routine administrative process, but was instead an arbitrary and punitive move the authorities made in retaliation for her work on behalf of migrants."

In recent months, Russian authorities have "intensified their efforts to silence independent voices," the New York-based watchdog said, citing the adoption by parliament of "a battery of laws that allow even greater infringements on freedoms of expression, association, and assembly."

Several Russian groups and media outlets have been forced to close, while at least three civic activists have been convicted on criminal charges and two others are awaiting trial.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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