Media freedom and freedom of association further deteriorated in Bulgaria as authorities targeted journalists and cracked down on anti-government protests, human rights-focused non-governmental organisation (NGO) Amnesty International said.
"Media freedom continued to deteriorate, with journalists investigating organised crime and corruption facing intense political and prosecutorial pressure in the form of threats and intimidation," Amnesty International said in its 2020/2021 State of the World's Human Rights report published on Wednesday.
Several journalists covering the anti-government protests in the capital Sofia last year were physically assaulted by the police, the organisation noted in its report.
Bulgaria ranked 111th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index of international NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which marks the lowest position among EU member states.
According to Amnesty International's report, Bulgarian authorities targeted businesses and individuals associated with the anti-government protests which started in the summer of 2020, allegedly subjecting them to politically motivated prosecutions and financial audits.
The organisation also recalled that as a part of the coronavirus emergency measures imposed in March 2020, the Bulgarian government proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that would impose heavy fines and prison sentences for dissemination of false information. The proposal was later vetoed by president Rumen Radev as it raised concerns related to freedom of expression.
The coronavirus pandemic and nationwide lockdown exacerbated the already widespread discrimination against Roma, Amnesty International also said. Last year, several Bulgarian cities were put under a special regime including mandatory quarantine for all residents, which disproportionately applied only to majority Roma neighbourhoods, while at the same time authorities failed to provide sufficient and safe access to water and sanitation, medical supplies and food to those neighbourhoods during the quarantines.