European court rules association can be registered in Bulgaria

Association

On 8th June 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled that the Bulgarian authorities had violated article 11 on freedom of assembly and association of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of the National Turkish Union and Kungyun versus Bulgaria. In 2006, Menderes Mehmet Kungyun, one of the founders of the National Turkish Union and a Bulgarian national, announced his intention to register an association to promote the rights of the Muslim minority in Bulgaria. Public reaction was malicious, with media alleging that Kungyun’s intention was to create an ethnic Turkish party and that he was funded by foreign secret services. A Bulgarian court denied registration, claiming that the aim of the association was "political". The ECHR overturned the Bulgarian court decision, stating that the "refusal to register the applicant association had not been 'necessary in a democratic society'".

Peaceful Assembly

On 26th July 2017, members of the civil society organisationИнициатива "Правосъдие за всеки" (Justice for All) - protested in front of the National Assembly over the government having adopted new laws without public debates or consultations. The newly-adopted laws contain changes to the Code of Administrative Procedure, Judiciary Act and reportedly create special courts for politicians. 

The Sofia Globe reported on the rising wave of protests in Bulgaria in July 2017, during which several categories of public servants (including police officers), but also persons working for private companies, protested to demand economic and social rights, higher salaries, better working conditions and road safety. 

The Sofia Globe article also examines how protests in July were portrayed by the Bulgarian press. A large-scale protest in Asenovgrad, for example, was described by some media as "anti-Roma" or "anti-gypsy" in nature, and did in fact have that element. However, there were several other demands associated with the protests, such as the need for more police in the town, which, the Globe contended, were not thoroughly investigated and portrayed by journalists in the mainstream media. 

A number of protests, however, took place in Asenvograd throughout July over reported violence in the community in which members of the Roma community were implicated. In response, demonstrators took to the streets, with one protester allegedly asserting that:

‘’Our protest is against the lack of justice in Bulgaria, against decisions that are not for the benefit of the citizens, our protest is not ethnic’’.

Expression

Freedom of expression and media pluralism are at "significant risk" in Bulgaria, according to the European Parliament. The Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPMF) in Bulgaria recently released an annual report analysing media freedom and pluralism at play in Bulgaria throughout 2016, which still persist today. Issues in the report concern the concentration of media outlets in the hands of business interests with close links to the authorities and their influence over the editorial policy; state regulation of financial resources; threats to the physical safety of Bulgarian journalists; and attacks, harassment and censorship. CMPMF warned that:

“the three major barriers to media pluralism refer to allocation of state advertising, interference in editorial content and concentration of ownership”.