Immigration and impending elections lead to protests in Bulgaria

Peaceful Assembly

In March 2017, several Bulgarian civil society representatives rallied outside the executive office in the capital, Sofia, to protest against increasing xenophobic tendencies in the country. According to the Sofia Globe, the protest was an act of solidarity with Father Paolo Cortese, a Roman Catholic priest who was recalled from Bulgaria after receiving death threats for sheltering a family of Syrian refugees in the northern town of Belene. Civil society responded after it was discovered that a municipal councilor was involved in efforts to remove Father Paolo from his position in Belene, though the councilor denies having threatened him directly. Demonstrators called upon President Rumen Radev to do more to prevent mayors and municipal councilors from abusing their power. 

Political tensions between Bulgaria and Turkey returned to the spotlight during the Bulgarian parliamentary elections in March 2017. On 24th March 2017, police removed barricades that have been erected by protesters at two border crossings with Turkey. The protesters had attempted to prevent Bulgarian-Turkish dual citizens from entering the country and voting in the parliamentary elections. 

Also in March 2017, several Bulgarian environmental organisations demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Environment against a new plan to increase the area allowed for construction at Pirin National Park. 

Association

On 23rd March 2017, the European Court of Human Rights published its ruling on the case Genov v. Bulgaria, which relates to the state's violation of the freedoms of assembly and association. The case began in March 2007, when Bulgarian authorities refused to register a new religious association due to the fact that there was another organisation with the same name - the Bulgarian Branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) – registered in 1991 and re-registered in March 2003. The Court ruled in favour of the applicant (Genov) and sanctioned the Bulgarian authorities for violating Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 11 (freedom of association) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Expression

In March 2017, a new satirical publication Prass Press published 10,000 copies of its first issue; however, only a few copies were delivered to members of the public and subscribers. During a press conference, the founders of the publication declared that a majority of the newspaper copies had yet to be distributed and that the distribution company was abusing its position as a monopoly in the sector. Prass Press author Ivan Bakalov added the publication's team will raise their concerns about monopolisation of the press in Bulgaria with all relevant international institutions and organisations that monitor freedom of speech around the world.