Bulgaria: outrage as journalist loses job after revealing secret arms trade to Syria

By Jane Whyatt

Investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva is not at work today. She’s posting her investigation into illegal Bulgarian arms smuggling on Facebook and YouTube instead of in the pages of "Trud", the newspaper that used to employ her.

Dilyana Gaytandzhieva Dilyana Gaytandzhieva in the interview talking about the reasons why she was suspended (photo: screenshot)

"Trud" has published part of her research, which alleges that diplomatic paperwork was used to hide shipments of heavy weapons to fighters in Syria. But shortly after her report was published, she was summoned to the office of the Bulgarian National Security force. “They wanted me to reveal my sources“, says Gaytandzhieva in an interview posted on YouTube, adding that she did not.

Asked by the interviewer why she continues to do this dangerous work in war zones, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva replies: “Once you have seen the war in the eyes of a child, you just want to do your best so that this war will end and the world will know the truth. It is often said that the first victim of war, it is the truth.“ 

"Trud" is Bulgaria’s biggest national newspaper, in terms of circulation. The name means ’Labour’ in English and the paper has a long history, dating back to 1936. It has a pro-government political perspective. So some readers were surprised to read Gaytandzhieva’s report, which implicates Bulgarian arms manufacturers in secretly supplying rockets and other heavy weapons to fighters in Syria.

"US, Saudi Arabia and European countries including Germany, UK, Serbia and the Czech Republic are 'turning a blind eye'“

Based on documents leaked to Gaytandzhieva from an anonymous source, her investigation links the state-backed Azerbaijani airline Silk Way Airlines with a covert arms trade. It traces artillery manufactured at Bulgaria’s award-winning VMZ plant in Sopot near Plovdiv to a basement in Aleppo, Syria. 

The "Trud" report alleges they were smuggled in by using diplomatic papers, and that the US, Saudi Arabia and European countries including Germany, UK, Serbia and the Czech Republic are “turning a blind eye“ to the shipments. Under the regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) the transport of ’munitions of war’ is not allowed on civilian aircraft. So for this reason the diplomatic cover was used, Gaytandzhieva alleges.

Invisible censorship

Commenting on the case, Vesselin Dimitrov, the Bulgarian member of ECPMF's Supervisory Board said: "Тhe sacking of 'Trud''s reporter Dilyana Gaytandzhieva is the visible side of the invisible censorship that has been going on in Bulgarian media for years. The state of media freedom is terrible in our society which pretends to be democratic. It will take years of committed, grassroots work to turn the trend around".

The investigative report is still available to read in Bulgarian and in English on the 'Trud' website and includes video footage of Dilyana Gaytandzhieva discovering the weapons labelled ’made in Bulgaria’. ECPMF has asked the newspaper’s editorial chiefs for a comment. So far there is no response from 'Trud'.


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Source information: This article was originally published by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom –