June 26, 2012

Minister of Justice, Diana Kovacheva
1040 Sofia
1, Slavyanska, str.

Fax: (+359 2) 981-91-57
E-mail: cabinet@justice.government.bg
b_dimitrova@justice.government.bg
pr@justice.government.bg

June 26, 2012

Dear Minister Kovacheva,

On June 30, 2012 the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Pride Parade will be held in Sofia. In previous years several pride parades were discredited by violent incidents.

On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I urge you to publicly denounce the statements inciting hatred and violence against LGBT people made by father Evgeni Yanakiev from Sliven. On June 6, 2012 he stated in an interview in the Bulgarian Standard:

“Our whole society must in every possible way oppose the gay parade that is being planned. For this reason today I appeal to all those who consider themselves Christians and Bulgarians. Throwing stones at gays is an appropriate way.”

On June 12, 2012 Father Yanakiev confirmed his statement on the Bulgarian national radio.

Human Rights Watch is an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. We investigate and expose human rights violations. We work in more than 90 countries in the world. In Europe we have offices in London, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Berlin, Moscow and Amsterdam.

The call to stone gay people is incitement to hatred and violence, and it should be condemned by you in the clearest terms and in the most public way possible.

In 2008 right-wing extremist groups and football hooligans violently attacked participants in the first LGBT Pride Parade in Bulgaria. In 2011 three volunteers from the Sofia Pride Parade were attacked and beaten. The police have yet to announce any progress in their investigation of last year’s events.

When the Holy Synod, the highest authority in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, was asked to denounce calls for violence against LGBT people by members of its Church, like Father Evgeni Yanakiev, the Holy Synod issued a statement on June 14, 2012. In this statement the Synod does not address the incitement to hatred and violence. Instead, it confirmed the Church’s firm opposition to such “immoral manifestations,” and its immutable conviction that homosexuality is “an unnatural lust which unconditionally harms both the personality of those who commit it and the society as a whole.”

Thus, the LGBT people who will participate in the LGBT Pride of June 30, 2012 in Sofia are left in the cold. The government of which you are Minister for Justice has an obligation to take appropriate steps to protect them from violence and hate speech which might lead to violence.

Bulgaria, as a member state of the Council of Europe, is subject to Recommendation CM/Rec (2010) 5 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which is directed to member states to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The recommendation was unanimously adopted by the Committee of Ministers on March 31, 2010 at their 1081st meeting.

Paragraph 6 under B Hate Speech reads as follows:

“Member States should take appropriate measures to combat all forms of expression, including in the media and on the Internet, which may be reasonably understood as likely to produce the effect of inciting, spreading or promoting hatred or other forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Such ‘hate speech’ should be prohibited and publicly disavowed whenever it occurs. All measures should respect the fundamental right to freedom of expression in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention and the case law of the Court.” 

There is no doubt that Father Yanakiev’s call to stone LGBT people falls under this category.

Article 4.1 of the Bulgarian Protection against discrimination act prohibits all direct or indirect discrimination on many grounds, including sexual orientation.

Also the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to which Bulgaria is a party, prohibits in article 21 explicitly any discrimination based on sexual orientation as one of the grounds mentioned.

Therefore, I urge you to publicly disavow this call for violence. Furthermore, I urge you to investigate if Father Yanakiev’s statements can be prosecuted under Bulgaria’s Penal Code.


Sincerely,
Boris O. Dittrich
Advocacy director
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch