More than 70 Bulgarian and 40 foreign and international NGOs expressed their support for the biggest human rights organization in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, after one of the parties in the ruling coalition in Bulgaria, VMRO-BND, asked the Prosecutor General of Bulgaria to initiate proceedings for de-registration, i.e. prohibition of our organization.
The arguments of VMRO-BND are that BHC provides submissions to the courts, that it organizes seminars and other educational events with prosecutors and judges and that it represent clients in the European Court of Human Rights and before domestic courts. This, in their view, is an “interference with the judiciary” contrary to Article 117 of the Constitution, which provides that the judicial power is independent. (The full VMRO press-release on their action is available here (unfortunately, only in Bulgarian).
This is not the first time this extremist party of a manifestly neo-totalitarian type undertakes such action. In October 2017, they wrote to the Prosecutor General to initiate prosecution against the Chairperson of BHC Krassimir Kanev personally for “sabotage” (“вредительство” in Russian). In 2014, the same party wrote to the National Revenue Agency to initiate an investigation. Although none of these actions achieved any of their aims, they constitute intimidation and harassment and cause a lot of stress to BHC's staff and to its membership. This is particularly the case now that VMRO is part of the government.
As an act of solidarity many of BHC’s partners and friends in the NGO sector came forward with statements of support and demands to the Bulgarian government to protect the freedom of expression and ensure that the organization can carry out its legitimate and important human rights work without interference, intimidation and harassment.
“This is an unprecedented attempt to silence independent and critical voices by the authorities in Bulgaria. As a member of the European Union, Bulgaria has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law, and we expect the Prosecutor General to firmly reject the request for dissolution. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee is the most respected human rights organisation in Bulgaria. Their work providing capacity-building for judges and prosecutors and legal services to people in need is crucial. Attempts to deregister them for their work are a direct assault on freedom of expression.”, said Amnesty International’s Europe Deputy Director Massimo Moratti in a statement.
“The developments described above are of particular concern in a country where intolerance is on the rise, and where the safety of those who work for the protection of minorities and the most vulnerable groups of the population can no longer be taken for granted. We deplore the VMRO’s actions and call on the Bulgarian government to abide by its international obligations with respect to freedom of association and other fundamental freedoms by immediately putting an end to the threats facing the BHC and ensuring the safety and operating capacity of the organization and its representatives.”, states a civil society coalition of over 40 foreign NGOs, published in the Civil Solidarity Platform.
In another statement signed by 72 Bulgarian organizations, VMRO-BND's act is condemned as harmful to the civil society by inserting distrust towards the NGO sector for political gain.
BHC is grateful to all colleagues and adherents for their fast and mass reaction of support in this troubling moment!