Ruse-based journalist Asya Pencheva has been sentenced for her investigative work. Photo by pencheva.com
The Regional Court in Bulgaria's Danube city of Ruse has sentenced Asya Pencheva, a journalist from a local newspaper, for publishing a story about abuse in a local orphanage.
Judge Ralitsa Ruseva has sentenced Pencheva, who works for the local Utro ("Morning") paper, finding her guilty of slandering an employee of the Nadezhda ("Hope") orphanage, the Ruse-based Arena Media reported Thursday.
Asya Pencheva is sentenced over a story dating back to July 2011 when she published an interview about abuses of an orphan in the Nadezhda orphanage.
An employee of the institution, social pedagogue Tsenka Blagoeva, whose name is involved in the case, however, felt insulted by the publication, and filed a suit demanding a compensation of BGN 3 000.
Thus, Pencheva has now been sentenced to pay Blagoeva a compensation of BGN 1000 (EUR 500), and to public censure on the local municipality-owned radio.
Pencheva's sentencing has spurred an outrage in Ruse, and among Bulgarian journalists.
The story published by Pencheva is based on a taped conversation with an employee of the orphanage in which the employee reveals that orphans are often beaten. Thus, Pencheva is believed to have complied with international journalistic standards in drafting the story.
Her sentencing is paradoxical, as the Bulgarian press abounds with tabloids publishing apparently abuse stories that have no way of being verified.
"This sentence is illegal, and it will be appealed immediately," Pencheva's lawyer Georgi Dimitrov is quoted as saying.
Pencheva herself says she is surprised by the ruling. She has a 10-year experience as a journalist, and in 2010 she received the Chernorizets Hrabur Journalistic Award (meaning "Brave Monk" – named after a 9th century Bulgarian author).
In addition to her work for the Ruse paper, Pencheva also has an investigative website pencheva.com where she publishes additional stories.
The Journalists' Association in Ruse has issued a petition in her support condemning the ruling of the local court, setting out to inform the South and East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) based in Vienna.