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Application of Legislation, Criminal Cases, Court Rulings

Application of Legislation, Criminal Cases, Court Rulings

In general, the existing legislation is enforced. In accordance to the Law “On protection against discrimination”, a Committee for Protection against Discrimination was created. Commission is a collegial body composed of 9 members, whose term of office is 5 years. The Commission is authorised to issue an order to eliminate discriminatory measures, necessary for execution, as well as to issue fines on violators of the law on discrimination, challenge discriminatory regulations, conduct investigations and provide assistance to the victims of discrimination. The statute of limitations for the cases investigated by the Commission cannot exceed three years. The Committee has 20 regional departments, where victims of discrimination can receive legal consultation.

Since 1997, Bulgaria has a National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Demographic Issues under the Council of Ministers. It is the main national body for consultation and coordination of public policy in respect of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and language minorities. Cooperation between authorities and national minority organisations are conducted through this Council. Activities of the National Council are developed in several directions, including: providing for equal opportunities and equal treatment of all Bulgarian citizens, prevention of manifestations of racism and xenophobia, as well as prevention of any discriminatory practices on ethnic grounds; improving access to healthcare and education, as well as improving employment and living conditions for persons belonging to ethnic minorities, with an emphasis of the most vulnerable citizens in the context of socio-economic conditions; preservation and development of cultural, religious and language identity of minorities.

In 2011, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Ministry of Interior and OSCE/ODIHR dedicated to the subject of hate crimes.

For several years, Ministry of Interior has been conducting staff trainings on prevention of discriminatory behaviour, as part of the fight against discrimination and hate crimes, primarily affecting the issues of identification of discrimination in minority communities.

Bulgarian schools allow for elective classes being taught in student’s native language, if appropriate form is submitted. However, in 2013 the number of such applications fell from 114 to 9 thousand.

On February 21, 2014, Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria ruled in favour of Muslim prisoners in a Sofia prison, who demanded they are not given meals containing pork.

Burgas City Council and Bulgarian parliament rejected several homophobic bills. On the other hand, Bulgaria still lacks an official registry of hate crime. Xenophobia is not considered an aggravating circumstance in trials. During investigations, hate crime is often qualified as “common” crime, such as hooliganism.

Sofia Prosecutor told Amnesty International in July 2014 that for the past 10 centuries, Bulgaria has been populated by different peoples and Bulgarians are very tolerant. He added that “99% of crime do not have racist or xenophobic motives”. After the February Islamophobic unrest in Plovdiv, head of a police department told Amnesty International that there were supposedly no evidence to suggest that the protest and the attack on a mosque were motivated by ethnic or religious hatred. He attributed the unrest to common dissatisfaction of the city residents. Many do not receive necessary information. When police is involved in a trial, the investigation can stretch indefinitely (for example, case of the alleged police brutality against Roma in Plovdiv has not been resolved since 2009). As a result, many victims choose not to report crimes to the police.

In December 2013, the Analytical Office of the General Prosecution of Bulgaria prepared guidelines for investigating discrimination-related crimes. In 2014, many regional law enforcement agencies are still waiting to receive these guidelines. European Roma Rights Centre published a report on April 5, 2013, which noted that people who commit racist offences are rarely brought to justice (or receive the minimum sentence).

Authorities tried to present attacks on refugees in November-December 2013 as everyday crime. Neo-Nazis that attacked young antifascist activists from 23 of September Movement, who were holding an action in support of immigrants, were also not brought to justice. However, at a meeting with representatives of Amnesty International, Deputy Interior Minister Plamen Angelov admitted that government has been ignoring this situation for too long.

Unfortunately, we can note the continuous trend of police reluctance to investigate hate crime and excessive leniency towards the accused. People who shouted anti-Muslim slogans during the February unrest in Plovdiv were not brought on any charges. Only three participants in the unrest have been arrested on charges of vandalism.

Gotse Delchev regional Prosecution refused to investigate desecration of a mosque under the pretext that the mosque was inactive. This was supported by higher authorities.

Prosecutor in Sofia refused to initiate pre-trial proceedings regarding desecration of a local synagogue, saying that anti-Semitic graffiti are an “expression of personal opinion”.

On August 15, defendants in a case of assault against a black woman from France received fines, instead of criminal punishment. On October 29, it was reported that Sofia Regional Prosecution refused to initiate a criminal case against a TV presenter Albena Vuleva, who openly called for sterilisation of Roma. Prosecutor’s Office explained that Vuleva called for sterilisation of not just Roma and therefore there is no ethnic hatred in her statements.

In December, Prosecution refused to investigate online threats against the organisers of gay-pride in Sofia, because the comments have been deleted.

Bulgaria is a country of mass labour emigration. In 2013, 2.5 million Bulgarian nationals worked abroad – more than in Bulgaria itself. As a result, Bulgarian population shrunk by 21% in the past 20 years, which is a record for Eastern Europe.

On the other hand, the civil war in Syria and Greece’s strict measures to protect Turkish borders made Bulgaria a gateway into the “European fortress” for many Middle Eastern refugees. In 2014, more than 110 000 people had applied for asylum, which is 1/3 more than in 2013. Between January and December 2013, 5 527 foreign nationals received Bulgarian citizenship. The number of applications for citizenship had doubled since last year, reaching 10 408. Distribution centre in Elhovo is engaged in receiving illegal immigrants, as well as five detention centres in Svilengrad, Sofia (2 centres), Nova-Zagora and Harmanli –with capacity of 6000 people in total. In addition, Lubimets and Busmatsi have centres for persons not seeking asylum.

According to the Human Rights Ombudsman in 2014, the practice of holding refugees for 24 hours in the border zone has ceased. Now they are transferred to Elhovo centre within this period of time. However, in Elhovo refugees are faced with poor living conditions.

Other centres managed to overcome the shock of the sudden influx of migrants by mid-2014, improving the living conditions significantly. Applications are now processed much faster.

On June 7, in an interview with the Bulgarian journalists, the Chairman of the State Agency for Refugees Nikolay Cirpanliev reported that 55% of refugees in Bulgarian centres have already received the status required to stay in the country.

The main violation on the part officials towards migrants is the lack of technical equipment during interviews – only in 0.5% cases, despite the fact that offices of the State Agency for Refugees are fully equipped. In a number of cases, interviews were recorded in handwriting and printed only a few days afterwards, which cast doubts on their accuracy. Legal assistance during the interviews was purely formal.

The “migrant containment policy” continued in 2014. A fence along the 33km Turkish border was completed in July and patrolled by heavier forces of border guards and police officers. The border was equipped with CCTVs, allowing monitoring movements of possible refugees and calling the Turkish army for assistance. 6 400 people have been returned to Turkey and Greece. Force was used in some cases. There have been reports of border guards mugging refugees.

On December 31, it was announced that another 131km fence would be built in 2015. Furthermore, additional 700 people would be allocated to protect the land border with Turkey.

On June 9, 2021, the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) overturned the ruling of the lower court, which in turn upheld the decision of the equality body in the case of hate speech by a public official. The Equality Authority ruled that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Krasimir Karakachanov did not persecute or incite discrimination through their public, television statements in 2019, degrading the Roma in Bulgaria in connection with the alleged crime allegedly committed by an ethnic Roma.

The Court referred to the fact that the concept of persecution requires that the impugned statement be directed against a specific person. The lower court further held that the statements in the present case were protected by freedom of expression as long as they did not go beyond what was justifiable in the circumstances, given the circumstances of the criminal case. Moreover, according to the authority, the subjective perception of the injury by the outside is not a sufficient basis for a conclusion about discrimination.

The Court of First Instance upheld this conclusion, adding that, in the Court's view, discrimination is systematic abusive behavior, and a single act is not sufficient to reach such a conclusion. The public nature of the statements and their wide coverage in the media, incl. trials were not significant.

However, the SAC overturned this decision, considering the above reasoning to be erroneous. It ruled that the publicity of statements was critical. The defendant was able to know that his statements will be circulated. His freedom of expression does not extend to such offensive remarks. The prohibition of persecution was absolute and applied equally to personal opinions. The defendant's intentions have nothing to do with the notion of "persecution". A detrimental result is enough, and the purpose of causing such a result does not require proof. The Court held that, by its very nature, the impugned statements necessarily stigmatized all Roma in Bulgaria. Accordingly, every member of the community under attack was affected. No specific individual goal was required. The SAC relied on the recent case law of the ECtHR in the case of Budinova and Chaprazov v. Bulgaria 4 , as well as on other relevant precedents of the ECtHR.

Bulgaria's hate crime laws are a combination of specific increases in penalties and predicate offences. Hate crimes are not codified as a separate crime in this country. In general, the statistics of cases investigated and sentenced are as follows: in 2016, 299 cases of hate crimes were investigated, 71 cases were sentenced by the court. In 2017, this ratio was 9/9, in 2018 - 6/158, in 2019 - 432/155, and in 2020 - 353/289.

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