site.btaBulgaria's Media Freedom Further Deteriorated in 2022 - Amnesty International Annual Report
Media freedom further deteriorated in Bulgaria as journalists were subjected to threats, intimidation, and abusive litigation, said Amnesty International on Monday in its annual report on the state of the world's human rights. Migrants and asylum seekers faced pushbacks, the report reads. Domestic violence increased. Courts found discrimination against the Roma during riots in 2019. People with disabilities faced persistent discrimination.
The report is particularly critical when it comes to freedom of speech.
Journalists and independent media outlets reporting on organized crime, corruption or minority rights faced persistent threats and harassment and were frequently victims of abusive litigation by public officials and business people, Amnesty International concluded. An Association of European Journalists’ survey indicated that one in two journalists in Bulgaria faced undue pressure, and one in ten had been threatened with court action. This had a chilling effect on reporting and resulted in increased self-censorship. Journalists and human rights defenders living outside of the capital, Sofia, were particularly vulnerable to intimidation, the report says.
Major media outlets continued to be controlled by politicians and oligarchs, further undermining editorial independence, and limiting access to information.
In November, Parliament adopted at first reading amendments to harmonize the Criminal Code with European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings on freedom of expression. The amendments would remove the existing provision treating the defamation of a public official as an aggravating circumstance and reduce excessive and disproportionate fines for defamation, the report points out.
The 2022/23 annual report addressed problems in the treatment of refugees and migrants.
There was a sharp rise in the number of refugees and migrants who arrived at the border with Turkiye. Authorities recorded over 85,000 arrivals, more than double the 2021 number. Summary returns, sometimes accompanied by violence, remained widespread. Rights organizations reported continuing discriminatory practices in the asylum system, with applications by nationals of certain countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Morocco, and Tunisia, being automatically rejected. Bulgaria received nearly 1 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, and provided access to healthcare, social services and education to 150,000 who registered for temporary protection. Many refugees left after September amid growing uncertainty about the government’s extension of the hotel accommodation scheme.
The report also addresses the situation of sexual and gender-based violence. Cases of domestic violence, which increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to rise.
Amnesty International examined the situation of LGBTI rights in the country, Bulgaria's experience in combating discrimination, the situation in Bulgaria in relation to the right to privacy, and the rights of people with disabilities.
The organization provided examples of events from the past year to support its report.
On the freedom of expression topic, Amnesty International reminded of Vazrazhdane's proposed legislation in November 2022 which would publicly label individuals and organizations who received financial support from foreign sources as “foreign agents”, fine them for failing to disclose foreign donations, and prohibit them from carrying out political or educational activities. Civil society organizations warned that the law would undermine freedom of expression and association.
The report pointed out that on several occasions, the authorities provisionally accommodated Ukrainian refugees, including families with children, in a temporary accommodation centre in Elhovo, which was designed as a detention facility for people entering irregularly - the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee then highlighted the inadequate and undignified conditions at the centre. Amnesty International also recalled Aleksei Alchin's case: in August, an appeals court in Varna overturned an earlier district court decision that had approved his extradition to Russia.
On the LGBTI people's rights topic, the report recalled that Boyan Rasate, the Bulgarian National Union-New Democracy’s candidate in the 2021 presidential election, was fined by a court in Sofia in June for a break-in at an LGBTI community centre, the Rainbow Hub, during which the facility was vandalized and an activist assaulted. He was cleared of charges of assault.