Date: Mon, 23 Jun 97 11:40:22 CDT
1997 annual International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights report: Chapter on Bulgaria
Press release from Greek Helsinki Monitor, 19 June 1997
IHF Focus: Human rights legislation; presidential elections; freedom of the media; the rule of law (surveillance of political opponents); independence of the judiciary; fair trial and detainees rights (including Labor Education Schools for children); torture and ill-treatment; freedom of religion; conscientious objection; protection of minorities; the rights of the child; protection of refugees; the death penalty
Throughout 1996, Bulgaria was governed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the victor of the December 1994 parliamentary elections. The government led by Prime Minister Zhan Videnov remained indifferent to human rights concerns. An illustrative example of this attitude was the appointment of Boncho Assenov as head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs at the Council of Ministers. He had on several occasions openly expressed his support for the abusive minority policy of the communist government in the 1980s, when a campaign was carried out to forcefully change the names of ethnic Turks.
In comparison to 1995, systematic violations of human rights increased in 1996. They resulted from the neglect of lawful practices, inefficiency of law enforcement agencies, and widespread corruption.
The general disregard for human rights issues was illustrated by the fact that virtually no measures were taken to create human rights legislation during 1996. No human rights instruments were signed or ratified by the government. The only attempt to improve domestic legislation was the regulation passed by the Council of Ministers which provided that refusals by the Social Assistance Administration to pay welfare assistance would be subject to judicial review. Two crucial acts which would be essential for the improvement of human rights legislation were postponed, although they were on the Parliament s agenda. These were the act providing for an alternative civilian service to military service, and amendments to the Juvenile Delinquency Act to abolish the system of Labor Education Schools.
The first round of presidential elections were held in Bulgaria on 27 October 1996 and the second run on 3 November. Both local and foreign observers, including some from the OSCE, monitored the elections. These elections confirmed one of the positive achievements in the development of democracy in Bulgaria: they were free and fair. No abuses were reported on the election days. The only concern raised by some local and international observers was the unequal access to national television, to the disadvantage of opposition candidates.
Freedom of Expression and the Media:
Harassment of Journalists
Criminal proceedings were initiated against journalists for what they had written or broadcast in respect of public officials. The prosecutors initiated charges on the basis of Article 148, paragraph 1 of the Penal Code relating to "defamation of public officials." In most cases, courts imposed heavy fines.
On 20 February 1996, Valentin Hadzhiev, a correspondent of 24 chasa, and Mitko Shtirkov, correspondent of Trud, were arrested and charged with defamation (Article 148.1 of the Penal Code). The journalists had described a prosecutor in the Smolyan County as a former police officer who had been dismissed from the force for bribe-taking. The journalists were detained for one day and then released by the Smolyan Regional Court.
In June, journalist Krassimir Iliev was sentenced by the District Court in Blagoevgrad to serve six months in prison after being found guilty of defaming the chief prosecutor.
The attack on freedom of reporting on the national radio and television started in the last days of 1995. In late November 1995, 34 journalists and reporters from the most popular radio station Radio Sofia - followed soon by dozens of colleagues - signed a protest declaration against "permanent direct administrative interference in the preparation and broadcasting of programs." Their declaration protested the censorship imposed through financial sanctions against journalists. It also stated that the consequences of such control included unbalanced presentation of political parties; information blackouts on some events; and highlighting events of minor importance at the expense of major events. Dozens of journalists quickly signed the declaration. The director of the national radio network rejected the accusations as unfounded, and immediately fired his deputy for having organized the protests. On 18 December 1995, seven of those who had signed the declaration were dismissed.
The attempts to "cleanse" the national electronic media continued in 1996.
The Parliament on 7 June 1996 dismissed Bulgarian National TV General Director Ivan Granitski, officially for financial irregularities and for poor management. The real reason appeared to be the fact that Zhan Videnov, both Prime Minister and Bulgarian Socialist Party Chairman, had disapproved of the television s newscasts, co-productions, and sociological analyses.
The Law on National Radio and Television
Another cause for concern related to freedom of expression in 1996 was the new Law on National Radio and Television. The Bulgarian Parliament adopted the bill on 18 July, but President Zhelyu Zhelev vetoed it. Parliament overrode the President s veto and adopted it again on 5 September without changes. Although the Constitutional Court in November declared the law unconstitutional on several counts, its provisions reflected the increasing determination by the political leadership to gain control over the most important media, national radio and television.
Although the law explicitly stated that "Bulgarian National Radio and National Television are independent organizations" (Article 48), the law also provided for Parliament to impose considerable control over the operation of both public and private electronic media.
The law provided for a National Board for Radio and Television (NCRT), the composition of which had to reflect the strengths of the various parliamentary factions. This, in practice, gave the majority party the right to control the electronic media.
The law vested the NCRT with a broad mandate to control all electronic media, to oversee media operations and to elect the heads of state radio and television. The NCRT was also to issue licenses to private broadcasters after reviewing detailed programming schemes; to appoint the executive directors and the managing bodies of public radio and television, and to exercise control over programming. In addition, the budgets both of the NCRT and of state radio and television were, according to the law, to be voted upon as part of the state budget, which placed them under the direct control of the government and the majority in Parliament.
Article 4 of the new law stated that the NCRT would have the authority to cancel programs and suspend broadcast licenses based on vaguely-worded "principles." For example, the programs had to be "in conformity with the constitutional order" and could not violate "national security considerations, defense interests, and universally accepted moral values." They had to "protect the national and spiritual values of the Bulgarian people" and could not amount to "psychological assault." The law also prohibited the dissemination of information that would damage the individual s "honor ... regardless of the veracity [of the information]" (Article 32).
The law s provisions violated the Bulgarian Constitution which stipulates that the only form of speech that can be prohibited is incitement to overthrow the constitutional order.
A further cause of concern was that the NCRT was entitled to close a private broadcaster s station for up to six months, if the broadcaster violated the Law on National Radio and Television and refused to follow the Board s instructions. Yet, according to the Constitution, prior restraint can be imposed only by the courts and then only for the prevention of incitement to violence, criminal offenses and the overthrow of the constitutional order.
A particularly controversial aspect of the law was that it prohibited independent broadcasting by political parties, trade unions, religious groups and non-profit organizations. Furthermore, the language of all broadcasting was to be Bulgarian. Only foreign music, educational programs and foreign cable networks were excepted from this provision. The mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) have charged that this provision runs counter to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe in that it does not allow minorities to have programs in their own languages. The law also prohibited broadcasting by political parties, trade unions, and religious and non-governmental organizations. Such organizations were also forbidden to own more than a ten percent stake in any broadcasting company.
The Constitutional Court declared 15 of the law s provisions to be in violation of the Constitution. Among these were provisions providing for prior control over broadcast programs. Most importantly, the Court declared the rules on the selection of the members of the NCRT to be invalid.
A new law was expected to come before Parliament in 1997 because the Constitutional Court s ruling left nobody with the powers to elect or to dismiss the general managers of public radio and television.
The Rule of Law
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that the security police carried out surveillance of political activists in 1996. Former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov of the Socialist Party provoked a heated discussion in March by stating that the police had resumed old, communist, state-security methods of monitoring the activities of politicians and other citizens. Many people shared this fear after appointments of former state-security officials to the police forces. It was extremely difficult, however, to provide tangible evidence of such practices, because the new law regulating the use of special surveillance techniques allowed for very limited control over the use of such methods.
Independence of the Judiciary, Fair Trial and Detainees Rights:
Independence of the Judiciary
In 1996, no reports were received about the judiciary acting improperly in response to political pressure. Despite severe pressure by the governing Socialist Party against both the Constitutional and the Supreme Courts, through the media under its control, the courts retained independence in their rulings on several politically sensitive issues. In one of them, the Supreme Court upheld the results of the 1995 municipal elections in the district of Kurdzhali, where the Socialist Party had lost the elections. The government had declared the results void. Also in 1996, the Constitutional Court declared a number of adopted laws unconstitutional.
Labor Education Schools See the Rights of the Child, below.
Pre-Trial Detention and Fair Trial
Concerns about the excessive length of both criminal and civil proceedings increased significantly in 1996. Structural problems with the judiciary and lack of qualified professionals resulted in packed court dockets and procedures taking years. In addition, poor coordination between police, and investigating and prosecuting authorities made criminal cases particularly slow. In July, about 80,000 criminal proceedings were at the stage of investigation, trial or appeal, and a total of 3,960 persons were detained on remand, most of them for more than the statutory limit of nine months.
The number of long pre-trial detentions continued to mount in 1996, as delays in structural reform of the judiciary and pervasive understaffing problems helped prolong judicial proceedings. Over 35 percent of all prisoners in Bulgaria were in pre-trial detention awaiting trial, some ten percent of them having been thus detained for more than three years.
There was also an evident need to educate judges and other legal professionals on how to ensure fair trial standards, particularly for members of some ethnic minorities.
In March 1996, Georgi Solunski, leader of a Macedonian group, was imprisoned for two years and eight months at a closed trial on charges of hooliganism and illegal possession of ammunition. Both the length of the sentence and the evidence brought against him during the trial suggest that his ethnicity played a significant role in his conviction.
Torture and Ill-treatment
In 1996, two trials of police officers charged with excessive use of force or torture shed light on the continuing inappropriate conduct of the police. Police have continued to beat, shoot at, torture, and otherwise ill-treat detainees. Some of the incidents - reported virtually on a daily basis - have resulted in death. A disproportionate number of the victims were Roma.
In May 1995, the Interior Minister, Lyubomir Nachev, reportedly stated that 17 people had died in suspicious circumstances in police custody in the previous 14 months. However, he gave no information on how many cases had been investigated, and nor the results of such investigations.
In 1996, ill-treatment by police continued unabated.
On 1 February 1996, two police officers stopped the car of Georgi Georgiev for a routine check. Velislav Dobrev and another passenger were also in the car. One of the police officers said to Georgiev that his name was on a wanted list and asked for 4000 leva to "arrange the matter." Georgiev refused and when Dobrev intervened in his support, he was allegedly beaten by the police officer. At the same time, the police officer asked his colleague to give him a cartridge for his gun. After suffering further beating, the three men were taken to a police station. They were reportedly refused medical care and were not allowed to contact their families. A medical doctor later stated that the blows to Dobrev s head could have been fatal.
On 8 April, at least 15 people were reportedly severely beaten when around 40 masked officers of the special anti-terrorist unit , the Red Berets (Tsrveni Bareti), and special officers of the Sofia Directorate of Internal Affairs carried out a raid on the offices of the VAI Invest Holding company and a neighboring apartment. Fifteen employees were arrested, some seriously injured. During the raid, the officers destroyed much of the office s equipment and allegedly took money and other valuables with them.
Bulgarian authorities generally took few administrative or legal measures to address police brutality. Nonetheless, some police officers faced charges.
In March 1996, two police officers each received eight-month suspended sentences for severely beating and causing bodily injury to two Roma teenagers in Vidin.
In June, five police officers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 20 years for ill-treatment leading to the death of a detainee, Hristo Hristov, in April 1995, .
On 20 September, two police officers were each sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in the city of Varna. They were found guilty of beating to death detainee Georgi Todorov while in custody, in order to obtain testimony.
The lack of such rights as legally guaranteed access to legal counsel, the right to an independent medical doctor and to be in contact with relatives, made ill-treatment in custody all too easy. Furthermore, abuses were difficult to prove as in most cases all "witnesses" were fellow police officials. Members of ethnic minorities with low income, in particular, often ended up having no legal counsel. A further obstacle to protecting detainees against torture remained the fact that only the public prosecutor could initiate the prosecution of police officers accused of ill-treatment. His or her refusal to prosecute was not subject to judicial review.
Members of ethnic minority groups continued during 1996 to account for a disproportionate number of those ill-treated by police.
In January 1996, a Roma man died under suspicious circumstances while in detention in Razgrad.
In April, May and June, ethnic Macedonians were mistreated by police while trying to exercise their legal right to free peaceful assembly and association.
Gay people were also reported to have been ill-treated by law enforcement officials.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief continued to be a focus of serious concern in Bulgaria in 1996. The government, using the 1949 Denomination Act and its power to exercise discretion in matters of recognition (based on the 1994 amendments to the Persons and Family Act), continued attempts to interfere in religious life and place all religious communities under its control. Government interference was particularly flagrant in the case of the two biggest communities, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Muslims. In each of these cases, rather than remaining neutral, top government officials both acted and spoke publicly in favor of one of the splinter groups organized around government-appointed religious bodies. The interventions deepened splits, and politicized debates on religious issues.
The split within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church became official in 1996 after a meeting of the anti-governmental synod in June which elected an alternative patriarch and church officials. The government vowed even before the meeting not to recognize this group and its elected officials.
However, the most serious cause for concern was the open targeting and harassment of small non-Orthodox religious groups labeled as "sects" - a total of 45 religious groups. After they were refused juridic person status or their status was revoked in the amendments to the Persons and Family Act of 1994, officials directed a substantial amount of effort towards "uncovering" their "unlawful" activities. The Bulgarian media contributed to the negative stereotyping of those groups.
Without official recognition, some denominations were virtually forced to go "underground." "Illegal" meetings of, for example, the Word of Life were periodically "discovered" by the police, followed by much propaganda against the community in the media. Several incidents of police interference in meetings of Jehovah s Witnesses were also reported in 1996.
In February 1996, Jehovah's Witnesses who were handing out leaflets and preaching in Smolian were expelled from the region.
In April, the Director of the Religious Affairs Committee, Mr. Matanov, personally forbade Jehovah s Witnesses to hold their congress in one of the city halls in Sofia.
In June, police in the town of Asenovgrad searched the regular meeting place of local Jehovah s Witnesses and effectively prevented them from holding meetings there.
Other violations of the rights of religious minority groups have involved discrimination in employment, withdrawal of parental rights on religious grounds and the refusal by local authorities to allow religious communities to build places of worship.
In January 1996, the district governor of Haskovo banned the building of a mosque in a village near Stambolovo.
In June, a Muslim school near Russe was closed by authorities.
In October, the Bulgarian government refused to abide by the Supreme Court s ruling which demanded that the government register the faction of the Muslim community which is not loyal to the government.
Criminal prosecution of conscientious objectors intensified in 1996. Article 59(2) of the Bulgarian Constitution stipulates that a law on alternative service to military service be passed by the Parliament within three years of the Constitution becoming effective (in 1991). No such law was passed as of the end of 1996. Instead, several young men were sentenced to pay fines or received suspended prison sentences in 1996. The main targets, again, were Jehovah's Witnesses whose religious conviction does not allow them to perform military service. But members of other religious groups, such as Seventh Day Adventists, and non-religious pacifists were also sentenced.
On 9 September 1996, a young man from the town of Popovo was given a ten-month prison sentence for refusing to perform military service. This refusal was his second; he had already received a six-month suspended sentence.
Protection of Minorities:
According to the 1992 census, there were 288,000 Roma (less than four percent of the population) in Bulgaria. Roma leaders, however, claim that the real number is much higher, as high as 800,000 (just under ten percent of the total population). In recent years, the Roma had faced increasing problems. Discrimination against them manifested itself in all sectors of social life. In the political sphere, Roma were discriminated against by the constitutional ban on formation of political organizations on ethnic grounds (Article 11.4). Their civil rights were violated in labor, education and social policies. In addition, there were strong negative attitudes in society with respect to Roma. With rising xenophobia in Bulgarian society, the operation of skinheads who "provided a remedy" by beating innocent Roma on the streets met with wide acceptance. For the general public, all Roma were perceived as criminals and therefore violent acts against Roma were accepted as a "restoration of justice."
The media played an important role in labeling the Roma population as criminals. They typically presented Roma only as perpetrators of crimes, giving only occasional coverage to other aspects of the community's social life. Moreover, the ethnic identity of alleged perpetrators was often emphasized where suspects were Roma. The language of reports was hostile and offensive, under headlines such as "Gypsies Ravaged Bulgaria." Following further investigations by local human rights activists, many such articles were proved false.
The police reinforced such stereotyping by publishing statistics about increasing "Roma crime." In reality, Roma detained for minor offenses such as theft often alleged that the police had forced them to admit other crimes, usually several and more serious ones, which they had not committed. Physical force was frequently used to produce "confessions" from Roma - particularly where the detainee had a criminal record.
Roma constituted a disproportionate number of victims of police brutality.
On 29 January, the 17-year-old Rom Angel Zabchikov died in a police station in the town of Razgrad, apparently as a result of being beaten. His family was first told that Zabchikov had fallen and broken his skull. Later, the authorities claimed that he had in fact died because of a fatally high level of alcohol in his blood.
On 17 July, two police officers shot dead two young Roma men in the village of Lessura. The Roma were wanted for desertion from the army.
On 16 August, a Rom was killed in the town of Elin Pelin by the chairman of the local municipal council.
On 28 August, a Rom was wounded by a police officer near the town of Vidin and another allegedly beaten after being tied to a radiator at a police station.
Investigators sometimes took advantage of the ignorance of most Roma concerning their rights. For example, many Roma did not know, and were not informed, about their right to a lawyer. Many were also unaware that, having "confessed" under duress, they could retract such statements in the court. Furthermore, since few lawyers took up Roma cases, many had to go through legal proceedings without any legal assistance at all. Moreover, in many cases, medical doctors refused to issue certificates describing the injuries inflicted upon Roma by police.
In certain locations such as Pazardjik, Stara Zagora, Sliven and Shumen, where many conflicts between the majority population and the Roma had occurred, prosecutors were apparently swayed by public pressure, to the disadvantage of the Roma involved. Similar problems were observed involving other branches of the judiciary.
The Draft Law on the Use and Protection of the Bulgarian Language
In April 1995, the Democratic Left party submitted to Parliament a draft bill on the Use and Protection of the Bulgarian Language. The draft law was later approved by several parliamentary committees with remarkable unanimity, and was supported by various governmental agencies and professional organizations but was not adopted. The law, if passed, would have seriously restricted the right of members of minority groups to use their language and to enjoy their own culture.
The proposed bill would have made the use of Bulgarian language compulsory in public life - including administration, the judiciary, and health services. It would have put an end to Turkish language programs on the national radio, and to efforts to start broadcasting television programs in minority languages. The bill (Article 13) would even have forbidden the use of foreign-language phrases and words unless they had already been integrated into Bulgarian, or "if they cannot be replaced with equivalent expressions and words existing in the Bulgarian language." Its Article 8 provided that shows in entertainment establishments (such as restaurants and night clubs) should have been approved by local cultural commissions, and that 80 percent of the content of such shows must be "of Bulgarian origin."
Intolerance toward homosexuals in Bulgaria was also a cause for concern in 1996.
On 10 June 1996, police raided the headquarters of the gay "Flamingo" agency, the most popular center of gay life in Sofia. The Sofia Prosecutor s Office had ordered the raid on the basis of pornography laws. Video tapes, correspondence, advertising material, and office equipment were allegedly confiscated. During the following days, police carried out raids on several other gay bars, video centers, and a gay beach, in Sofia and other cities, and materials were confiscated. Several people were reportedly arrested for short periods. Television and the press were reportedly invited by the police to cover the action. As a result, reports showing handcuffed gay people appeared on evening television news programs.
Rights of the Child:
The Labor Education Schools
A serious problem related to the fair trial issue was constituted by the practice of sending juvenile delinquents to Labor Education Schools which virtually amount to prison conditions. The basis of this practice was the Law on the Prevention of Anti-Social Acts by Juveniles and Minors, a communist relic from 1958. It provided that local non-judicial institutions could confine in such "schools" juveniles under the age of 18 who had committed a crime or other "publicly dangerous acts."
Children aged between eight and 18 years could be placed in such detention facilities without having been allowed legal defense during the case hearing, or a right to appeal the ruling. Their "offenses" could be as minor as vagrancy or simply being "uncontrollable." In Labor Education Schools the children were subjected to serious hardships such as hunger and physical abuse. Boys were particularly often beaten or placed in an "isolator," they were routinely subjected to head shaving, reduction diets, and imposition of work chores, deprived of home leave, town outings, and denied the right to receive correspondence. If they tried to complain about such abuses, they risked being severely beaten.
Placing children and juveniles in Labor Education Schools constituted imprisonment, regardless of the fact that the Bulgarian legislation regarded it as an "educational measure:" the absence of an adequate judicial procedure for investigating the charges; denying accused children the chance to call witnesses; the fact that one and the same body was responsible for bringing charges, processing the case and imposing punishment; and the defendants lack of legal counsel during proceedings, were all in flagrant contravention of international human rights standards.
Street children, i.e., children who were perhaps not actually homeless but for whom the street more than their family had become their real home, fell victim to violence both by police and by skinheads or other violent groups.
Between 12,000 and 14,000 such children were estimated to be living in cities throughout Bulgaria in 1996. Most of them (at least 85 percent) were Roma. They supported themselves by begging, performing odd jobs for shopkeepers, gathering waste materials from dump sites for recycling, prostitution, and theft. Many were addicted to glue or liquid bronze. As a result - and even more so because they were ethnic Roma - they were perceived both by police and private citizens as criminals.
Typically, police rounded up groups of street children on suspicion of theft, or ostensibly for identifying children and finding runaways. Many were held in police lock-ups overnight or even longer with no judicial process or review. Conditions in lock-ups were grossly inadequate. They were denied the use of bathroom facilities, received no food and were detained with adults. Moreover, street children were often subjected to physical and sometimes sexual harassment by police, both at the time of arrest on the street and particularly during interrogation at police stations. They were beaten with electric shock batons, clubs, chains, rubber hosing, boxing gloves, and a metal rod with a ball at the end (beech).
Many were attacked by skinheads, but the children seldom reported such attacks to the police, expecting no genuine interest from law enforcement officials who had themselves abused the children.
Children in Prisons
Alarming reports were received in 1996 about two penal institutions where children were being held: Boychinovtsi prison (for boys) and Sliven prison (for women and girls). Numerous children were reportedly held in those prisons in pre-trial detention, often for over six months, in company with convicted juveniles. It was, however, impossible to verify many such reports because the Bulgarian authorities denied access to these institutions. Monitors from Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, who had initially received permission from the Chief of the Prison Administration to visit the two prisons, were eventually not allowed to carry out their investigations on an order from the Chief Prosecutor s Office banning the visits.
Protection of Refugees
The situation of asylum seekers and other aliens in Bulgaria remained a cause of concern during 1996. As of January 1997, 1,585 asylum seekers were awaiting a decision and 209 recognized refugees were living in Bulgaria.
The principal problem regarding asylum in Bulgaria remained the fact that no asylum law had been adopted. A by-law authorized the National Bureau for Territorial Asylum and Refugees (NBTAR) to consider individual requests for asylum. However, its operation was often criticized, because the processing of asylum requests was overlong and because some applications were allegedly not registered properly and thus not processed at all. Some applicants had been waiting for a decision for as long as three years which placed them under extreme psychological stress. Multiple social problems added to their constant feeling of insecurity.
The second major problem entailed the lack of a right to appeal on merits of a negative decision of the NBTAR. Under existing law, only alleged procedural errors could be contested in a court of law, but there was no provision for review on the merits of the asylum claim itself.
For a large proportion of asylum-seekers, a temporary refugee certificate issued by the NBTAR was the only valid identity document they possessed. Even recognized refugees in Bulgaria did not receive documents certifying their refugee status. This caused major problem in their efforts to settle down and organize their life, particularly when they wanted to register in the Employment Bureau and to look for work.
Prior to May 1996, asylum-seekers did not have the right to work. Thus their only options were either to live on the insufficient funds provided by the UNHCR Office in Sofia, or to work illegally or steal to make ends meet. In May, an amendment to the Ordinance for the Conditions of Issuing Work Permits for Foreigners was passed. It provided that, three months after submitting their asylum application, asylum seekers could apply for a temporary work permit allowing them to work legally for a period of three months.
However, high levels of unemployment and economic crisis in the country made it hard for asylum-seekers and refugees to find a job. Due to widespread xenophobic attitudes, asylum seekers and refugees from Africa had the smallest chances of finding employment, despite the fact that some of them had received a university education in Bulgaria.
According to information published in the Bulgarian press, there were around 50,000 illegally residing foreigners in the country in 1996, most of whom were in transit to the West. Reaction to the high number of illegal immigrants in Bulgaria greatly increased negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviour towards foreigners both by private citizens and the authorities. Several cases of police harassment and attacks by skinheads on foreigners were registered in 1996.
The Death Penalty
In 1996, the Bulgarian Parliament discussed several motions to lift the moratorium on executions imposed by the Parliament in 1990. Justification for the proposals was sought by citing the increasing crime rate. The Bulgarian Penal Code still provided for the death penalty and, despite the moratorium, the courts continued to pass death sentences when demanded by public prosecutors. In June 1996, the new Minister of the Interior, Nikolay Dobrev, requested that Parliament lift the moratorium. Up to 1997, all such attempts had been unsuccessful. The reinstatement of the death penalty would contravene the policies of the Council of Europe, of which Bulgaria is a member.
Panayote Elias Dimitras