A man who was filmed assaulting an RFE/RL correspondent at a rally for Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party in Sofia has been charged with hooliganism and detained after admitting to being a paid provocateur.
In a statement on August 7, the Sofia District Prosecutor’s Office said the 20-year-old man was being prosecuted for snatching RFE/RL journalist Polina Paunova’s phone and throwing it over a fence.
Prosecutors said the unidentified man confessed to the crime and was fully cooperating with police.
Another 22-year-old man who was present during the assault was taken into custody the same day and later released. Police have also questioned a 66-year-old who can be seen in the footage insulting Paunova.
The incident occurred at an August 5 GERB party rally attended by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who is under pressure from weeks of anti-government protests.
Protesters were also at the GERB party event demanding the resignation of Borisov‘s third cabinet and the government's chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev.
In a twist to the assault case, prosecutors said the 20-year-old man claimed that “people involved in organizing the protests had promised him payment if he provoked and carried out provocative actions against participants” at the event held at Sofia Tech Park on August 5.
The claim that it was anti-government protesters who paid a provocateur, and not a GERB party member roughing up journalists and the opposition, has raised questions over how the government may be trying to spin the narrative.
RFE/RL footage from the event shows GERB party public-relations people escorting an anti-government heckler from the area.
The same public-relations men also tried to stop RFE/RL from filming and were on video harassing other people.
The 20-year-old man who assaulted RFE/RL correspondent Paunova was also seen on video with GERB party members and its public-relations team.
GERB claims that they do not know the individuals in question and that they were "paid provocateurs," even though they were wearing GERB stickers.
After the rally, the GERB party filed a complaint with the police, alleging that their employee had also been attacked and beaten.