Bulgaria: New law a threat to human rights activists

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An amendment to the Criminal Code put forward by the Bulgarian government today risks being used to silence critical human rights activists, Amnesty International said.

The amended Criminal Code will be debated in Parliament in the coming months.

It introduces sentences of up to eight years for "a Bulgarian citizen, who is in the service of a foreign country or organization, or organization under foreign control/management, in order to harm the Republic."

"It is hard to see what the government is trying to achieve with this legislation other than hold a stick above heads of critical NGOs. Its provisions are incredibly vague and are not defined anywhere in the law," said Jezerca Tigani, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International

The legislative proposal comes a week after the National Revenue Agency initiated an investigation into the leading national human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, particularly looking at their sources of income.

The audit was prompted by a report from members of an ultra-national party who had been accused by the human rights group of incitement of hatred and xenophobia.

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee had recently been highly vocal in its criticism of the government’s human rights record, in particular the treatment of asylum seekers.

“This is the first such audit of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee since it was founded in 1992. It submits regular annual information on its funding to the authorities as required. There have to be questions as to why they are now - suddenly - being subjected to such an audit,” said Jezerca Tigani.

Amnesty International is calling on Bulgaria’s Parliament to drop the proposed amendments to the country’s criminal code and ensure that human rights activists can continue to carry out their work.

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