Human Rights WatchWorld Report ContentsDownloadPrintOrderHRW Homepage

World map Bulgaria



Europe and Central Asia

Middle East and North Africa

Special Issues and Campaigns

United States


Children’s Rights

Women’s Human Rights


Human Rights Developments

The human rights situation in Bulgaria remained static during 1998. Though the non-communist Union of Democratic Forces government, elected in 1997, gave rhetorical support to improving its protection of human rights, its actions revealed unwillingness and inability significantly to change legislation or provide adequate remedies for victims of abuse. State authorities routinely infringed on freedoms of expression and religion; often state institutions and the press appeared to collaborate to increase hysteria and prejudice against minorities. Ethnic minorities continued to suffer disproportionately from widespread police brutality.

The Bulgarian penal code, which criminalizes defamation, was used to prosecute independent journalists in 1998, resulting in the imposition of fines and/or suspended sentences. The government also used other means to exert pressure on critical media. On February 9, the day after “Hushove” aired a program satirizing Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, the National Media Council and the State Television and Radio Administration canceled the popular television series. Officials alleged financial impropriety, but had earlier threatened to end the show for its “denigration of public authority.” Themanaging board of the National Radio removed journalist Diana Yankulova from the air for three months beginning in March for conveying information given anonymously regarding the minister of the interior. Svetoslava Tadarakova was dismissed from the National Television by the general director for “statements in the media [which] ruin the good reputation of Bulgarian National Television.”

There were reports of at least eleven violent attacks against media representatives in 1998, including physical assaults and bombings of newspaper offices. The attacks were believed to be motivated by the desire to intimidate journalists investigating corruption. Police have made no arrests in connection with these crimes, nor have they completed investigations into the attacks. Roma also were frequent targets of violence. On January 12, police shot and killed a fleeing Roma suspected in the murder of a taxi driver. A minor female witness was detained by police, who reportedly threatened to shoot her and threw a hammer at her when she could not respond to inquiries about the whereabouts of a pistol. She was released unhurt approximately one hour later. Skinheads attacked a group of Roma children living in an abandoned building on May 15, 1998. One boy, Metodi Rainov, fifteen years old, was killed when he was thrown from a window; others were beaten and chased out of the building and down the street. Authorities had made no arrests as of this writing although the victims claimed they could identify their attackers. Police and prosecutorial officials have routinely failed to investigate and prosecute police officers accused of brutality, contributing to an atmosphere of impunity for police misconduct. Only two policemen were convicted and sentenced for having murdered suspects during 1998. Prosecutors suspended other investigations involving police brutality or did not file formal charges. On at least four occasions in 1998, police conducted large scale raids of Roma neighborhoods; the police claimed they were searching for stolen goods, but local human rights groups and witnesses suspected the raids were intended to intimidate Roma and collectively to punish the Roma community for its perceived criminality. Residents of the neighborhoods were beaten, and homes and goods were destroyed. Witnesses and victims told the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee that they were too afraid to file official complaints, and that they were convinced that the complaints would have no effect.

Local authorities and media continued to harass the members of non-Orthodox religions. False and inflammatory reports that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses had committed various crimes were disseminated by both private and state-owned television and print media. In violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, police arrested children and adults for distributing religious tracts. On February 19, four apartments belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses were searched by police . Religious material and other personal items were confiscated. On March 12, Varna customs officials confiscated religious materials from Jehovah’s Witnesses because they were of a “religious-sectarian nature.” Krassimir Savov’s two-year prison sentence for his conscientious refusal to perform compulsory military service was confirmed by the Plovdiv Regional Court on July 2, 1998. Mr. Savov, a Jehovah’s Witness, remained at liberty pending his appeal.

In Barges, the municipal council refused to register “dubious religions,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of the Moon, and Seventh Day Adventists. These religions already had been officially registered by national authorities in Sofia. The decision of the city authorities had no legal effect, but demonstrated the level of intolerance and hostility toward non-Orthodox religious groups.

The death penalty remained legal under Bulgarian law. The Bulgarian parliament placed a moratorium on executions in 1996; however, at least two death sentences were imposed in 1998. Bulgaria’s death row prisoners have complained to the European Court of Human Rights about the length of their stay on death row. Conditions for other prisoners also remained deplorable. The rights to representation and prompt challenge of the lawfulness of detention are not guaranteed by the code of penal procedure and were routinely violated.





Republic of Belarus

Bosnia and Hercegovina



Czech Republic








The Russian Federation





United Kingdom


Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Asylum Policy in Western Europe



Copyright © 1999
Human RIghts Watch