Bulgaria prosecutes rapper Misho Shamara over flag

Bulgarian rapper Big Sha performing (Image: Misho Shamara) Big Sha feels he is being silenced by the authorities ahead of elections

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A Bulgarian rapper is being prosecuted for allegedly offending symbols of the state. The singer could face up to two years in jail if found guilty of ridiculing the white, green and red Bulgarian flag.

Misho Shamara (Big Sha) was part of influential 1990s underground band Gumeni Glavi (Rubber Heads) and is still a popular musician.

The Sofia prosecutor's office confirmed it had started criminal proceedings against the rapper after being approached by the Council of Electronic Media (SEM), the body which supervises broadcasters in Bulgaria.

According to SEM President Georgi Lozanov, Misho Shamara had made fun of the national flag in his song White, Green And Red, associating it with drugs and using inappropriate language.

The song includes the lyric, "I smoke the green and I get high". It also links the colour red to menstrual blood.

Back to communism?

The ruling centre-right Gerb party denied it had anything to do with the action against Shamara and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said he had never even heard of the rapper or listened to the song.

Social media users and commentators were not convinced.

Many thought the singer had got into trouble because of another line in the song, which states in a play of words: "I don't trust Gerb but I trust the state emblem." The word "gerb" is Bulgarian for "emblem".

Some accused the government of resorting to tactics from communist times.

"Someone really believes that it's 1976 all over again - Misho Shamara is being investigated for crimes against the republic," tweeted popular blogger Ivan Bedrov.

"No, it's not 1984, it's 2012," wrote Radoy Ralev in e-vestnik, a website critical of the government. "Musicians are once again being summoned by the police."

Some observers were dismayed that a lyric could trigger a criminal investigation.

Blogger Milena Fuchedjieva wrote that if "this silly and totally harmless song" led to a trial then Bulgarians had "completely gone nuts".

The main opposition Socialist party announced that the prosecution was "clearly following a political order from the authorities".

Bulgaria's Pussy Riot?

The incident has naturally drawn comparisons with the Pussy Riot trial in Moscow.

Even newspapers that usually abstain from criticising the government were surprised by the decision.

Trud and 24 Chasa argued that the move had stirred talk of censorship and freedom of press but in effect would only make the rapper more popular.

"Nobody had heard of the three punk girls from Pussy Riot before they sang Mother Mary, Drive Putin Out in a church," said Annie Zarkova in Trud.

"Now their faces are on every poster around the world."

According to influential blogger Ivo Indzhev: "The judicial anger against rappers in Bulgaria… copies almost literally the reaction of the Russian prosecution against the political protest of Pussy Riot."

Media freedom

Some, including the rapper himself, commented that the criminal proceedings were an attempt by Bulgarian government to silence critics ahead of the general election due in 2013.

Such accusations are being increasingly levelled at the authorities.

In a recent meeting with European commissioner Neelie Kroes in Sofia, Iliyana Benovska from K2 Radio said that if Brussels did not intervene, after the vote Bulgaria would become a "totalitarian state".

"Freedom of speech will be dead and media groups close to the government will have established a full monopoly," she added.

Reporters without Borders has ranked Bulgaria 80th in its 2012 Press Freedom Index, placing it last among EU members.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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