MINELRES: EFA: Breaches of Human rights in Bulgaria

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Thu Oct 26 07:21:04 2006

Original sender: European Free Alliance <gdauwen@e-f-a.org>

Nelly Maes
President of the European Free Alliance
European Political Party

To the Commissioner on Enlargement
Mr. Olli Rehn
Rue de la Loi 200
1040 Brussels

Brussels, the 20th of October 2006

Mr. Commissioner,

As President of the European Free Alliance (EFA), I firmly want to
protest against the very repressive climate in the Pirin area in
Bulgaria. For many years the state and officials representing the state
have put all their effort in preventing the party OMO Ilinden Pirin, who
represents the Macedonian Minority, from registering as a political

We believe that the EU and the EU Institution can no longer disregard
this serious breach of Human rights and we request you to take immediate
steps to enable this party to have a fair chance to register. 

We furthermore request you to send an observer on behalf of the
Commission to the trial that will soon be convened and where it is to
expect that again the Court will deny the right of free association on
the basis of false or subjective grounds. The Judicial system
systematically proves to act with contempt towards the European

Members of the European Free Alliance organised a fact finding mission
to Bulgaria and found out for themselves that repression is very lively.
I include a document that gives an overview of some manifest violations.

I remain at your entire disposal for any request you would like to make
concerning this issue. 

Faithfully yours,

Nelly Maes
President of the European Free Alliance 

To the European Commission,

Your Excellencies,

I hereby will give you an overview of some facts concerning the
difficulties my organisation encounters trying to register as a
political party.

OMO "Ilinden"-PIRIN was established as a party on the 28th of February
1998 and was registered on the 13th of February 1999 but was banned on
the 19th of February 2000 by the Constitutional Court of The Republic of
Bulgaria. On the 20th of October 2005 the party won the trial against
the ban in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Until today
the Bulgarian government fails to comply with the decision of the
highest European Court. On the 14th of May 2006 OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN
became observer member of European Free Alliance, a European Political
Party. On the 14th and 15th of September an EFA delegation visited our
party in Sandanski.

The main problem of the party comes from the fact that it is the only
one in the Republic of Bulgaria which recognizes the existence of a
Macedonian minority and struggles for respecting the rights of the
Macedonians and thus is frequently named and shamed as an
anti-nationalistic and anti-state party. The denial of the existence of
the Macedonian minority and the violation of the rights of the
Macedonians in Bulgaria has been an official policy in the Republic of
Bulgaria for the last 50 years. The discrimination of OMO
"Ilinden"-PIRIN is a part of the policy of discrimination of the ethnic
minorities in the country.

In February 2006 we turned to the Committee of the Ministers of the
Council of Europe with an application for an intervention to gain back
our registration since there is no procedure in Bulgaria for reversing
the decision of the Constitutional Court of the 19th of February 2000
regardless the decision of the European Court of Human rights.

In the absence of a procedure in Bulgaria, trying to regain the
unlawfully rejected registration of OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN, the party
started a new procedure for registering. This started under the
circumstances of a new law on the registration of Political parties.
This new law makes is even more difficult for new parties to participate
in the democratic process and therefore we see it as discrimination.
Each new party has to gather 5 000 signatures in order to be accepted
for registration.

On the 25th of December 2005 the Party filed an application for a
meeting with the Procurator- General of Bulgaria in connection with the
violation of the human rights of the Party members. These applications,
as well as a complaint filed in April 2006 have been left with no reply.

On the 25th of June 2006 our party had its foundation meeting facing an
enormous pressure from the media, disinformation and threats made by
other political parties and even by some MPs. The arguments used against
the registration of the new party were accompanied with a vast
disinformation campaign. It was said that our party was founded on an
ethnic basis (something which is against the Bulgarian Constitution),
that it is anti-Bulgarian and separatist party and last but not least
that at the foundation meeting there were less than 500 participants, a
minimum required by the law. 

This smear campaign in the media was instigated also by agents from the
political police of the Blagoevgrad (Pirin) region, whose control over
some of the journalists was evident. The peak of the escalation was when
MPs openly called that members of the party should be put in jail
without a trial (Boris Yachev and Krasimir Karakachanov) 

Various mayors openly declared "that all the Macedonians should be
expelled from Bulgaria" (one of them was Blagoevgrad's mayor Lazar
Prichkapov); The municipality councilor in Varna, Veselin Danov, said
that "Macedonians must be shot dead if they go out on the streets". None
of these provocations caused uproar or condemnation in the Bulgarian
society. It doesn't seem to make people wonder.

Party members were targeted and threatened. Pensioned party members
would loose their pension. When the party finally succeeded to gather
the needed 5. 000 signatures of members, another controlled campaign
came into force in the media. Unfounded press articles were spread,
claiming that the party got all the signatures by paying off people. 

Then followed another series of threats by politicians in the press,
provocations that the Prosecution office should deal with the activists
of the party. The MP and presidential candidate, Volen Siderov, said
that if he would come in office, "he would take away the citizenship of
the members of the party" and the Head of the Organization of the
Blagoevgrad Municipalities, Valentin Chilikov, and the mayor of the
village of Strumiani and the head of the Organization of the
Municipalities of Bulgaria said without any doubt that "Macedonians in
Bulgaria are not loyal citizens of the country".

We suspect that the leaders of the party and their telephone lines are
regularly under surveillance by the political police. On the 9th of
September one of the leaders of PIRIN - Botyo Vangelov - was illegally
detained by policemen. They were not in uniform, they did not formulate
any charge or reason for the arrest and they didn't legitimate
themselves. They also confiscated a list with names and personal details
of 499 members of the party that he was carrying at the moment of his
illegal arrest.

 He was kept in the local police station for 6 hours and he was
repeatedly insulted with ethnic slurs. The list was only given back
after 5 days on the 14th of September when a delegation of EFA arrived
in Sandanski. Official complaints were issued against this illegal
detention but until now without any result. Some days later the local
directorate of the police gave the media a made up story claiming that
the party leader attempted  to break in - by force - in a state's
building in an attempt to break into a secret database. 

On the evening of 19th of September, the police came into the party's
club in Blagoevgrad, where its members were preparing the documents for
the court and wanted to confiscate the list with party members as
"material evidence". Allegedly the police was informed that there had
been a "trade with signatures". Some days before this incident the mayor
of Sandanski had said to the EFA delegation that he had proof of this
trade with signatures but he was not prepared to show or explain in what
this evidence consisted.

Fortunately, the police didn't confiscate the list since the people
resisted this unlawful action asking for a search warrant which the
police could not provide. The slander campaign in the press continued
for 9 full days (11-19 September) and surprisingly stopped on the day
when the documents for registration were introduced in court, although
the party had kept that a secret.

According to the law on Political parties in Bulgaria the court is bound
to set a trial in the period of 1 month from the moment the documents
for registration are accepted and subsequently two weeks later has to
lay down its decision. The documents were introduced on 20th September.
The Sofia City Court broke the law by setting the trial date for 8th
November, which is 1 month and 19 days after the introduction of the

Unexpectedly the court changed its last decision of setting the trial on
8th November and rescheduled it for 18th of October in order to comply
with the law. But the party only received the invitation on the 13th of
October, 5 days before the date of the trial and not minimum 7 days as
is foreseen in the law.

On Monday the 16th of October 2006, at 8 o'clock a.m. groups of 4 people
each, consisting of a representative of the Prosecution, local
policemen, representatives of economical police and one more person
visited the homes and working places of people who had signed as members
of the party. They have been rudely interrogated, threatened and
harassed. They were asked whether they were aware that our party was
illegal (in stead of saying not yet legal or in the process of
registering) in Bulgaria. They also asked whether the party had paid
them and promised them anything in return for becoming members of OMO
"Ilinden" - PIRIN. They also asked whether they wanted to have trouble
with the law and they have declared to them that they could be held
responsible for any kind of effects if the party would manage to
register. They  insisted that the people should fill in a declaration
and sign it stating "that they didn't know what they had signed when
they had filled in their applications". 

In this process old people have been threatened that they would lose
their pension, students were threatened as well that they would be
excluded from Institutes they were studying if they would refuse to sign
the declaration. The same events happened in the cities of Peshtera and
Goce Delchev on the 18th and the 19th of October in the city of Bansko.

On the 17th of October the Party filed 3 complaints to the Procurator-
General, the Ministry of Interior and the Justice Ministry regarding
these practices.

The trial in the Sofia regional court regarding the application for
registration of OMO "Ilinden"- PIRIN started on the 18th of October

The Prosecution presented over 90 pages of evidence as a basis to deny
the party's registration. The lawyer of the party Yonko Grozev, from the
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, asked for a delay in order to have time to
look into the evidence. His request was denied since he was only given
30 minutes to get familiar with the evidence and to formulate his

The Prosecution arguments to reject the request for registration were:

* Because of incorrect data in the documents. For example, allegedly 66
of the signed declarations have been written by one and the same person.
To prove this an expert report was attached. The lawyer requested to
speak to the person who had made the expert report since there were
obvious errors in this report. For example allegedly the signature of
the co-president of the party Botio Vangelov, at the bottom of his
declaration for membership and in the list with the founders, didn't
belong to the same person. Vangelov was present and was prepared to
prove that this was false, but he was denied the right to testify. The
request to hear the expert was also denied.

* Because there were about 60 declarations from the police claiming that
those people had never signed an application for membership of the
party. But in most of the cases the name of the party in the declaration
was not the name of our party but of OMO "Ilinden" which is a
party/organization existing parallel to ours. There were even
declarations of people who told the police that they never signed any
document to register VMRO OMO "Ilinden", VMRO Ilinden and other names.
These declarations were totally irrelevant since those organisations are
in no way linked to our party. The lawyer also requested to be given the
right to see those applications in order to verify whether those
declarations were signed. But this request was also denied.

* Because one signing member allegedly lives abroad and this is a breach
of the law the Court pointed out. They referred to Stoyan Mechkarov who
allegedly lives in London and had become a member of the party. Despite
the fact that this person is a Bulgarian citizen, and the lawyer could
prove this, the Court disregarded what he said.

* Because evidence was presented of alleged payments in return for
signatures. Two documents from the prosecutors of the towns of Sandanski
and the town of Goce Delchev ordering an investigation of alleged
payments or other violations filling in the applications for membership
of the party, were presented. One of them was based on a complaint from
the ultra nationalistic VMRO-BND. The only sources they used for their
complaint were press publications. Both of the documents had a deadline
for the investigation which had expired a long time before the trial
before the court (18.10.2006) but the results from these investigations
weren't presented as evidence. According to our sources the allegations
were not proved and for this reason the document was not presented in

The Prosecution simply didn't present any evidence that payments were
made to attract party members. 

* Eventually the Prosecutor declared that OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN had
violated also Article 11 from the Chart of the Human Rights - e.g. the
rights of the citizens to create their own parties and organizations and
added that as ground for denial of the registration. The Prosecution
declared in front of the press that they even found under aged members
in the lists of the party but they weren't clear about the number
suggesting that it were many but according to the Prosecution there were
only 3.

To conclude:

* The Prosecution was not able to come up with hard facts or evidence
that enables them to reject the registration.

* The Prosecution did not deny the total number of members of our Party
(almost 6000). The law foresees a minimum of 5.000. They only tried to
reject some signatures on false grounds but in any case they were not
able to reject more than 1.000 signatures.

 * The prosecution did not make any objections against the constitution
and the statutes of the party. The complaints were aimed at the
foundation committee of the party stating that the necessary quorum (the
required number is minimum 500 people) was not reached which is totally

* The prosecution did not mention the decision of the European the Court
of Human rights in Strasbourg (ECHR). The court denied all of the
requests of the lawyer of the party. His request to have more time for
his plea to present more evidence in favor of registration of the Party.
On the other hand all "evidence" and demands of the Prosecution was
accepted. They decided to fix the date of the trial which means that
according to the law in 14 days (deadline 1st of November) the decision
will have to be made.

The press showed an interesting change in their behavior. They took
pictures of the empty room, the lawyer and the representatives of PIRIN
(without asking them for their permission) but after the end of the
meeting they took statements only from the Prosecutor and not from
representatives of the party. The news that "many incorrect items were
found in the documents" was published the same afternoon with the
comments of a great number of politicians. Nobody interviewed the
Party's press officer to hear the other side of the story thus
neglecting all forms of deontological code.

Here are some of the published opinions published only hours after the
The Regional co-coordinator of the fourth most influential Bulgarian
parliamentary party "Ataka"("Attack") stated on the radio that the
leaders of OMO "Ilinden "- PIRIN should be jailed."We from "Attack" in
The Balgoevgrad region will make everything possible not to allow the
registration of OMO "Ilinden "- PIRIN."

The MP from VMRO BND Boris Yachev: "This is the normal way to stop such
people. If this party is registered this will put the government in a
dangerous position when so many other formations will ask for
registration as well" and could be expected a pile of applications for
registering of different minority parties.

The MP of DSB (Democrats for Free Bulgaria) from the Blagoevgrad region,
Eliana Maseva: "I agree that if the government would allow the
registration of separatist organizations it will put the state in a
dangerous position affecting national security. Their formation from a
clear point of view is anti-constitutional."

The MP from NDSV (a party in the present government), Snezhana
Grozdilova, for the Blagoevgrad region: "it is normal that the Court
denied the registration keeping in mind that all of us in Pirin
Macedonia witnessed irregularities while gathering signatures from
almost illiterate or illiterate citizens."

The MP of ODS in Pirin Macedonia, Yasen Popvasilev: "Such a party in
Bulgaria shouldn't exist."

According to the opinion of the lawyer (Yonko Grozev from the Bulgarian
Helsinki committee) the development of the trial does not leave any
hope. He believes that again the registering of the party at this moment
will not be accepted. 

Intervention from the European institutions is our only hope to defend
the right of association in Bulgaria. The moment is critical because if
the trial goes to the Supreme Court there will not be a result for many
years since there are no fixed deadlines for the Court to answer and our
Party will remain without registration and thus with no legal protection
or electoral and democratic value for many years to come.

It is impressive the way we've been treated knowing the fact that we are
a party-observer in EFA.

The presence of an observer from the European Institutions in the trial
could also have a positive effect. 

We sincerely have the impression that all the above mentioned elements
seem to be an indirect way of replying to the verdict of the ECHR in
Strasbourg that ruled Bulgaria is in breach with the fundamental human
rights. It seems as if the Bulgarian state acts with contempt and lacks
respect for the EU and its Institutions although they would like to join
the EU which rules Bulgaria apparently does not like at all.

Your Excellencies,

We turn to you for help to make everything possible for implementing
human rights and democratic principals in Bulgaria!

With respect,

On behalf of The Leadership of OMO "Ilinden"-PIRIN,

Stoyko Stoykov, co-president,


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