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The restrictive and discriminating Religions Act of 2002 is still in force in Bulgaria. Its implementation results in violations of the religious rights of large groups of people. The government does nothing to bring the act into compliance with international human rights law and to rectify its deficiencies as established by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The application of this legislation and the apathy of the public authority have led to a number of violations of the freedom of conscience and religion. Despite persistent protests on the part of minority religious communities, the latter are still subject to regular harassment from public officials and private groups, and their freedom of religion is yet to be guaranteed.
Over the years there have been many cases in which Bulgarian citizens’ religious rights have been violated: from burning and confiscation of religious literature, through attacks on and defilement of religious buildings, to police repression of religious activists and open communication of discriminatory statements. Most of the abovementioned are targeted at the Muslim community, as well as at Jehovah’s Witnesses and other less prominent religious minorities.
Government measures to combat the increasingly discernable acts of Islamophobia remain limited at best. The Declaration of the Supreme Muslim Council from 2011 details 110 cases of attacks on Muslim places of worship in the past two decades. Yet, the assailants in all of them, up to this very date, remain unknown. No one has been indicted or put to trial, no sentences have been issued and no damages paid.
In a brutal display of impudence, members of the far-right Ataka party attacked Muslims who had congregated for Friday prayer in Sofia’s Banya Bashi mosque on 20 May 2011. Ataka activists put loudspeakers with patriotic music near the mosque, threw eggs and stones at the Muslims and shouted insulting slogans. The attack led to injuries of several Muslims. It merits mention that the proceedings define the ultra-nationalists’ actions as ‘hooliganism’ rather than discriminatory violence on the grounds of religion.
On 17 April 2011, VMRO organised a protest to call for the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses, right in front of the group’s place of worship – the Kingdom Hall in Burgas. Five members of the religious community were injured and ten of the assailants were arrested.
You can read more on freedom of religion problematic in BHC’s annual report and in the sections below