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IHF 1999 Human Rights Report - Bulgaria

July 23, 1999

The following are excerpts from the International Helsinki Federation's 1999 Report on Bulgaria. For the full text please click here

IHF FOCUS: Freedom of expression and the media; freedom of association and peaceful assembly; independence of the judiciary and fair trial; lustration law; torture, ill-treatment and misconduct by law enforcement officials; conditions in prisons; religious tolerance; conscientious objection; freedom of movement; protection of ethnic minorities; protection of asylum seekers and immigrants.
Throughout 1998 Bulgaria was ruled by a government consisting of the United Democratic Forces (UtDF), formed after the elections of April 1997. In contrast to previous years, 1998 was not marked by political or economic upheavals. The government continued its policy of reform and reiterated its willingness to abide by European human rights standards. This created a favorable public climate both for legislative reforms as well as for NGO activities.
However, the actual development of the human rights situation in Bulgaria in 1998 was contradictory. While authorities continued their dialogue with human rights NGOs and carried out investigations into past abuses, sentences for human rights violations were very mild. On the whole, in most spheres of human rights the situation did not change, in some a setback was observed.
Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly
The rights of ethnic and religious minority groups as well as trade-union activists to association and assembly were restricted. The only positive development was the government's June decision to register the moderate Macedonian culture-based organization TMO-IMRO, led by Georgi Solunski.
Regardless of the fact that the government finally registered the Jehovah's Witnesses, authorities on several occasions restricted the right of local groups of Jehovah's Witnesses to assemble. Also, the ethnic Macedonians' right to assembly was violated.
Protection of Ethnic Minorities - Macedonian Minority
In early July the European Commission of Human Rights admitted the complaint submitted by ethnic Macedonians regarding the violation of their right to peaceful assembly. Despite this fact, violations continued.
On 18 April several hundred activists of UMO "Ilinden" were prevented from placing flowers on the grave of Yane Sandanski, a historic Macedonian figure on the basis of an order of the Blagoevgrad District Prosecutor's Office. People attempting to approach the site of the grave near Rozhen were turned back because of their "technically faulty vehicles." Vassil Gyudjemov, who still managed to reach to the grave, was detained for not carrying a passport and beaten by the police.
On 2 August the mayor of Petrich banned the UMO "Ilinden" celebrations of the anniversary of the Ilinden Uprising in the Samouilova Krepost locality near Petrich. Yordan Toshev, a local UMO "Ilinden" activist, was arrested for having thrown flowers at the policemen's feet.

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