Bulgaria’s failure to adequately investigate and prosecute hate crimes is fuelling fear, discrimination and ultimately violence.
“Missing the Point: Lack of Adequate Investigation of Hate Crimes in Bulgaria” documents the severe impact of hate crimes on victims and highlights how the authorities’ failure to tackle entrenched prejudice against asylum seekers, migrants, Muslims and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is fuelling further violence and discrimination.
Racist and xenophobic hate crimes
Legislation exists in Bulgaria to prosecute hate crimes linked to racism and xenophobia but authorities consistently fail to identify and adequately investigate them.
Attacks against migrants and asylum seekers spiked in 2013, according to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and other local organizations. The Deputy Prosecutor General informed Amnesty International that the Sofia Prosecution Office opened 80 pre-trial criminal proceedings concerning crimes against ethnic minorities – including migrants, asylum seekers, Roma and ethnic Turks -- between January 2013 and March 2014. However, the collected data is not comprehensive and does not reflect the full extent of these abuses.
Nazir, an asylum seeker from Iraq was attacked with metal knuckledusters by a group of eight or nine people in September 2013. He was hospitalized for nine days and had to have two operations. Police failed to come to the hospital to take Nazir’s statement and refused to register his complaint afterwards. Nazir recounted how the police “told me to go away or they would send me back to Iraq.” When questioned by Amnesty International, the Ministry of the Interior said two police officers were sanctioned for lack of due diligence in this case after an internal inspection, but it is currently unclear whether or not an investigation into the attack against Nazir has been launched.
For certain crimes, such as murder or physical assault, a racist or xenophobic motive constitutes an aggravating factor and attracts an additional penalty, however authorities often treat these crimes as motivated by hooliganism, which prosecutors told Amnesty International is easier to demonstrate. This is partly due to the fact that many officials lack the relevant knowledge and experience to be able to put the existing laws into practice.
Metin, a Bulgarian citizen of Turkish origin, was brutally attacked by a group of skinheads dressed in black outside an apartment block, home to a large number of migrants. He sustained life-threatening injuries and spent several weeks in a coma. One of the attackers shouted to a man who tried to intervene when they were attempting to break into Metin’s apartment prior to the attack: “Why are you defending migrants? They are killing Bulgarian girls.” Police apprehended the suspects on the spot and a pre-trial investigation was opened for attempted murder motivated by hooliganism.
Homophobic and transphobic hate crimes
There is no legislation in Bulgaria to prosecute homophobic hate crimes which are currently investigated and prosecuted simply as hooligan acts.
In January 2014, the government proposed a new criminal code, which included sexual orientation as a prohibited hate motive, but the law’s adoption was suspended in anticipation of parliamentary elections in October 2014. The new government is yet to commit to the change.
Mihail Stoyanov, a 25-year-old student, was brutally killed in a park in Sofia in 2008 because he was perceived to be gay. During the investigation, a man testified that the two suspects were part of a group intending to “cleanse” the park of gays. However, because of gaps in the law, in August 2013, the Sofia City Prosecution Office pressed charges for murder motivated by hooliganism. The prosecutor in that case told Amnesty International: “The law is limited and that’s why I could not take into account the homophobic motive in the indictment.”
Barriers to justice for victims