PRESS RELEASE: Human Rights Activists and Citizens Appealed the Refusal of Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office to Initiate Proceedings against the Bulgarian Prime Minister for Praising Vigilante Refugee Hunters

Human rights activists and citizens with the legal assistance of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) appealed against the refusal of the Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office (SCPO) to institute pre-trial proceedings against the Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov, based on a crime report from BHC – the largest Bulgarian human rights organization. The crime report was signed by 41 citizens, including famous Bulgarian journalists, concerning PM’s direct encouragement of groups that illegally detain asylum seekers at the border and use violence against them because they are foreigners, Arabs and Muslims. These vigilantes became known in Bulgaria as “refugee hunters”.

In the beginning of April 2016, one of the major Bulgarian TV stations – Nova television – aired a video showing one day of “hunting” of such a group near the Bulgarian-Turkish border. The vigilantes were represented as “patriots” and heroes. The crime report was filed against the PM because of the following statements by Borisov before journalists on 10 April 2016:

“I got in touch with these boys [the vigilantes from the video]. We spoke. All the help the police, or the border police and the state gets is welcome [...]. However, I personally [...] spoke to them, I thanked them, and I sent the director of border police to meet them so they would coordinate […] the country belongs to all of us. Everyone who helps only deserves a “Thank you!” So we already did that. It’s true that I asked the director of border police to come from Sofia to Burgas and meet them. They had got in touch only with border guards from the local station. So this is just help”.

In its signal BHC and 41 citizens claim that there is evidence for a crime under Art. 162 (1) of the Criminal Code (CC), since Borisov’s statement constitutes incitement to discrimination and violence, based on the nationality and the ethnic group of the foreigners crossing the Bulgarian border in pursue of asylum. There is also evidence for another criminal act – public incitement to crime under Art. 320 of the CC. The crimes to which the Prime Minister incites are those of Art. 162 (2-4) of CC, use of violence against people because of their ethnicity; the formation, leading and participation in organizations and groups that aim at or systematically allow such violence. Borisov incites the perpetration of crimes under Art. 163 CC – participation in crowds gathered to attack citizens in connection with their nationality and ethnicity, as well as crimes under Art. 143 (1) of CC – forcing others to perform, miss or endure something against their will by force or threat.

On 14 May 2016, SCPO refused to initiate pre-trial proceedings under Art. 162 CC, as they stated that Borisov’s words were not “capable of causing negative feelings in a large group of recipients”; Borisov does not seek to “impose feelings of hostility, hatred or unfair treatment”, but expressed “his personal opinion.” SCPO also claims there was no offense under Art. 320 of the CC, since “there is no incitement to crime by preaching to a lot of people”.

In their appeal, complainants argue that SCPO’s refusal is groundless and contradicts the law. In its decree, SCPO uses an arbitrary definition of “discrimination” that does not exist in any legislative act and contradicts the existing legal definitions of discrimination. Moreover, the conclusion of SCPO that there was no incitement to discrimination, violence or hatred, as Borisov’s statements were not “capable of causing negative feelings in a wide range of recipients” contradicts Art. 162 (1) of the Criminal Code, under which it is enough to have incitement to discrimination or violence, without incitement to hatred. Discrimination and violence are a matter of conduct, not a feeling and attitude. Discriminators and abusers can be led by any motives, not only feelings; including beliefs that suppressing victims is justified by the public; or because they desire approval from the public or the people of power. The conclusion that with his statements Borisov expressed “his personal opinion” is also unjustified. There is no question that Borisov made his statement not as an individual in a private circle, but publicly as a Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria in front of many journalists for the purpose of having his statement shared with the entire nation as the position of the government or the state on the matter of the refugee-hunting groups. This is not a private position, but the position of the government.

“The Prosecutor’s Office seems to see the Prime Minister as an inadequate person if it excuses him by saying that he didn’t ‘wished or aimed’ to incite to crime,” said Margarita Ilieva, director of the BHC’s legal program. “This means that the prosecutors believe that Borisov neither understands what he is saying, nor knows that unauthorized detention, coercion and violence are crimes in Bulgaria, even more so when they are racially motivated. However a Prime Minister should consider his statements and it should be presumed that he does that,” she added. ♦