It is no secret that in Bulgaria hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity against the LGBTI+ community are not addressed in the Criminal Code. Nor is it a secret that there have been numerous cases over the years in which someone has always gone unpunished and justice has not prevailed. It is no secret that the LGBTI+ community in Bulgaria does not receive adequate judicial protection and justice.
It is important to clarify what a hate crime is. By definition, hate crimes or crimes with a discriminatory motive are criminal acts in which the perpetrator singles out the victim of the act because of his or her actual or perceived membership of a particular group in society. Why, in the 21st century, in a country of the European Union, are we still debating how to stop hating those who are different and why is it important for the Criminal Code in Bulgaria to recognise sexual orientation, gender and gender identity as characteristics against which hate crimes can be committed?
Unfortunately, in this article you will find over 15 examples from 2002 to 2020 of anti-LGBTI hate crimes, attempts to counter hate speech and numerous actions for a better life in Bulgaria. If you think there are none, see all the examples. And if you know there are, the examples will only reinforce your point.
- 01.04.2002 – The Bulgarian gay organization Gemini submits to the Ministry of Justice an official proposal to amend and supplement the Criminal Code of the Republic of Bulgaria in the part of it that concerns crimes against sexual inviolability of the person. One of the affected texts is Article 162 of the Penal Code. Gemini’s proposal was accepted in respect of the other texts and was adopted by the National Assembly, but not that of Article 162.
- 16.07.2002 – Michael Keschmann and Joke Svibel, PES members of the European Parliament, write to the President of the National Assembly Prof. Ognian Gerdzhikov in connection with the envisaged changes in Bulgarian legislation as part of the pre-accession commitments of the Republic of Bulgaria as a candidate member of the European Union. The letter stresses, among other things, the need to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the “non-discriminatory criteria” in the Penal Code.
- 30 September 2008 – Mikhail Stoyanov is murdered in Borisov Garden in Sofia.
31 March 2010 – Recommendation “CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers of the Member States on measures to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity” includes a set of recommendations to Member States addressing the problem of anti-LGBTI hate crimes. To date, none of these recommendations have been implemented by Bulgaria. The document recommends that when determining sanctions, Member States should ensure that motives related to sexual orientation or gender identity can be considered an aggravating circumstance.
- 12 June 2010 – LGBT youth organisation Deystvie organised a vigil on the occasion of the announcement by the police of the arrest of the perpetrators of Stoyanov’s murder
- 31 January 2014 – The Council of Ministers submits a draft for an entirely new Criminal Code to the National Assembly. § 1, item 22 of the Additional Provisions of the Code provides that sexual orientation shall be among the so-called “protected characteristics” – an element of the basic or qualified composition of certain crimes, taking into account the higher social danger and discriminatory motive of the perpetrator. The Bill was never considered by the Legal Affairs Committee in Parliament.
- 16 September 2014 – The Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance publishes its report on Bulgaria, recommending that the authorities include sexual orientation and gender identity in all articles of the Criminal Code that address hate speech and hate crimes (Articles 162, 163, 131 and 116).
- In 2015, Amnesty International published its report on Bulgaria, “MISSING THE POINT: LACK OF ADEQUATE INVESTIGATION OF HATE CRIMES IN BULGARIA”, which found that “gaps in legal protection for LGBT people contribute to homophobic or transphobic hate crimes going unnoticed. In turn, this means that data on such crimes is not collected separately and so there is a lack of reliable information on which to base policies to prevent such attacks. This is crucial in a context where negative attitudes towards LGBT people are widespread.”
- 2016 – In connection with the forthcoming ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention), an inter-ministerial working group under the Ministry of Justice is drafting two bills to bring domestic law into line with the Convention’s norms – the Domestic Violence Protection Bill and the Criminal Code Bill. The Criminal Code Amendment Bill, finalised in January 2017, introduces, among others, qualified offences of murder, bodily harm, threatening and others on “motives based on the victim’s gender, gender identity or sexual orientation”. Following a massive international campaign against the Convention and the Constitutional Court’s resulting decision that the Convention’s norms are incompatible with the Bulgarian Constitution, a highly restricted version of the Criminal Code Amendment Bill was introduced as Bill No. 854-01-76 on 24 October 2018 without the above-mentioned – and a number of other – amendments. This bill was adopted and promulgated in State Gazette No. 16/2019.
- April 17, 2018 – The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published its “OPINION ON CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE BULGARIAN CRIMINAL CODE RELATING TO CRIMES MOTIVATED BY SUSPICION, “HATE SPEECH” AND DISCRIMINATION”, which recommends “Expanding the protected characteristics in the provisions relating to bias-motivated crimes to consistently include religious and non-religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability”
- 12 February 2019 – The homophobic attack on Galya Petkova in the centre of Sofia, in which the attacker punched her in the face and knocked out two of her teeth. LGBTI organisations are once again calling for homophobic and transphobic hate crimes to be criminalised.
16 March 2019 – A youth breaks into the Rainbow Hub LGBTI community centre, breaks the rainbow-coloured flag stand and steals it. The assault was accompanied by other assaults over a two-month period in which one of the Rainbow Hub’s windows and mailbox were broken, one was vandalised and the community centre’s second sign was stolen.
- 25-29 November 2019 – Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic and her team visited Bulgaria. Ms. Mijatović found the widespread use of hate speech and the manifestations of discrimination and hostility against Roma, LGBTI people and persons belonging to other specific groups in society to be extremely worrying.
- 14 May 2020 – The EU Fundamental Rights Agency has repeatedly called on Member States to address anti-LGBTI hate crimes in their legislation. In its report on the first LGBTI survey at European level (EU LGBT Survey, 2014), the Agency commented, “EU Member States are encouraged to increase recognition and protection for LGBTI victims of hate crime by including homophobic and transphobic hate as a possible motive for bias-based crime.” The agency reiterated its recommendation in 2016 in its report “Speaking out professionally: challenges to achieving equality for LGBT people”, in its 2018 report “Hate crime recording and data collection policies in the EU”, and in 2020 in the report on its latest LGBTI study “A long way to go to achieve LGBTI equality”
- 27 September 2020 – In Plovdiv, a mob of youths, many of them minors, attacks three girls in the city’s Tsar-Simeon Garden. Media reports subsequently revealed that the youths had organised themselves through the social network Instagram to “cleanse” the park of LGBTI people.
1 October 2020 – The organisations Bilitis, Deystvie, GLAS and BHC submit a letter to the Ministry of Justice and the National Assembly calling for the criminalisation of qualified cases of crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression/manifestation. Neither institution responded to the letter.
- Bulgaria systematically refuses to bring national legislation into line with European Union standards in the field of justice. As of 2021, the European Commission has initiated criminal proceedings against Bulgaria for its overall failure to transpose Directive 2012/29/EU on the rights of victims of crime. The transposition of the Victims’ Rights Directive does not adequately address the support and protection needs of victims of anti-LGBTI hate crimes.
- In 2021, sexual orientation and gender identity are still not indicative of a hate crime in the Bulgarian Penal Code. This year, as before, we at Bilitis will not stop our fight against hate speech. The LGBTI+ community deserves adequate protection against violence against them because of their identity.
- Back in 2019, Dunja Mijatovic called for “In addition, provisions of the Criminal Code on hate crimes and hate speech, general anti-discrimination legislation and media legislation should be amended to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender characteristics as grounds for prejudice and discrimination, as well as aggravating circumstances, as appropriate.” This is what we urge the Department of Justice to do, if you urge the same:
Sign the petition here: https://action.allout.org/en/m/9747e2f8/