Two journalists in Bulgaria and a website have been convicted of defamation and ordered to pay the equivalent of some $35,000 for articles published in 2018 in what is being described as an unprecedented verdict, RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service reports.
The Sofia City Court (SCC) found that Boris Mitov, now a journalist for RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service, and Stoyana Georgieva had caused physical and mental anguish to Svetlin Mihailov, a former chairman of the SCC, and ordered them and the website that published the articles four years ago to pay him damages amounting to 60,000 Bulgarian lev ($34,659).
In 2018, Mitov was covering for the news website Mediapool Mihailov’s bid to become head of the SCC, Bulgaria’s largest district court. At the time, Georgieva was the editor in chief of Mediapool.
Four of those articles were examined by the court, and Judge Daniela Popova ruled on December 21 that they contained “defamatory allegations against [Mihailov].”
Lawyers for Mitov and Georgieva argued that the articles in question contained information about Mihailov, including questions about his sizable wealth and property, that had appeared at the time and since then in other publications.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly called the court’s decision “outrageous” and said it was meant to intimidate some of Bulgaria’s finest investigative journalists for reporting publicly known facts.
“The public has a right to accountability, and intimidation tactics like this will not keep RFE/RL from informing its audience about issues of public interest,” Fly said in a statement.
In her ruling, Popova did not specify exactly what extracts from the articles in question she found “indecent, vulgar, and cynical.”
Popova ordered the two journalists and Mediapool to each pay Mihailov 20,000 lev ($11,553).
Lawyers for the two journalists and Mediapool have appealed the ruling, although no date has been set yet for that hearing.