Human Rights in 2022: In Bulgaria "instead of getting Worse, it is getting Hopeless"
"In 2022, freedom of expression in Bulgaria was subjected to new abuses in the conditions of a full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine. Under the false cover of freedom of speech, the propaganda theses of the aggressor were spread by persons in the highest state positions, representatives of public institutions and public media." This is one of the findings of the report "Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2022", prepared and published by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and published today.
The decade of economic and political dependence on the media and replacement of the values of freedom of expression have turned Bulgarians into the easiest nation to manipulate in the European Union (EU), the report notes.
"Instead of getting worse, it's getting hopeless"
The expression "Instead of getting worse, it getting hopeless" was used by GERB MP Vezhdi Rashidov on the occasion of the unprecedented failure to elect the speaker of the 48th National Assembly, and in the BHC report it is used to describe the state of the media environment despite the good ranking of Bulgaria in the media freedom index of "Reporters without Borders" in 2022 compared to the previous ones.
Bulgaria continued to demonstrate its inability to guarantee its citizens access to verified, timely, evidence-based information. In the context of Putin's war against Ukraine, the media illiteracy that has developed in recent years has led to an explosion of propaganda speech. These problems were also highlighted in the international reports published during the year, monitoring freedom of expression and media freedom.
The conclusions are based on publications by Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, Reuters Institute, European Commission, the study "Russian Propaganda in the Bulgarian Media Online" by the Foundation for Humanitarian and Social Research and other documents, which found that President Rumen Radev spoke excessively, "disseminated characteristic of the Russian propaganda narrative". In addition, the show "Politically Incorrect" with host Peter Volgin, the distribution of a propaganda speech in social networks by the leader of "Vazrazhdane" Kostadin Kostadinov.
It concludes that "Russia's invasion of Ukraine was associated with a sharpening of the propaganda narrative, an increase in the number of publications with propagandistic content and a harshening of the language, as well as clear signs of a takeover of the authorities that should protect freedom of expression and the right of citizens to receive reliable and accessible information".
The Electronic Media Council itself during the year was unstable and demonstrated an inability to fulfill the duties delegated to it by law, human rights activists conclude. They remind that the chairwoman Sonia Momchilova "in herself has also become a case, questioning the ability of the EMC to fulfill the legal requirement to be guided by the interests of society, protect freedom of speech, independence of media service providers, media pluralism, cultural and linguistic diversity, consumer protection, accessibility, non-discrimination". This was done by systematically announcing positions incompatible with democratic values, with ethical and professional standards for work in the media. An example is the attacks on the journalist Maria Cheresheva, for her work on an international investigation into the illegal forcible removal of asylum seekers from non-EU borders.
The report notes that last year was marked by unprecedented efforts for Bulgaria to improve the quality of content moderation in the most popular social network in Bulgaria, Facebook.
No progress on the convictions from Strasbourg
- With the political instability inside the country and the tense international situation due to the war in Ukraine, the observance of human rights was not among the priorities of the Bulgarian politicians and rulers, human rights activists state. They note that last year, for the first time in many years, the number of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on cases monitored by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe increased. None of the groups of cases under European supervision were closed, and Bulgaria continued to fail to implement key decisions of the ECHR, the report states.
- Apart from the group of cases "Kolevi v. Bulgaria", the monitoring of which the Council of Ministers refused to end, the report describes in detail the cases of Bulgarian citizens, concerning the lack of guarantees against secret eavesdropping, the living conditions in social homes for persons with mental disorders.
- The closure of the specialized prosecution was the most significant event in the reform of the judiciary. The evaluation of the European partners was positive despite the claims of the Prosecutor General that this is how the oligarchy ensures peace of mind. Overall, there was no serious success in reforming the judicial system. The Prosecutor General cemented his position as a media star, even allowing himself to speak in front of children in schools. On the other hand, results were lacking in the fight against corruption.
- The number of persons without identity documents is increasing dramatically. They are 187,883 people as of July 15, 2022. The increase is nearly 60 thousand people compared to March 2021. Persons without identity documents are marginalized and deprived of basic human rights.
- 149 thousand Ukrainians sought international protection in Bulgaria and tried to take advantage of their right to asylum. However, the caretaker government demonstrated inaction and sometimes open opposition to the measures in their support. As a result, only 49.7 thousand Ukrainians remained in Bulgaria.
- There is no progress in the prevention of ill-treatment and in the material conditions in penal institutions, states a report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture; 32.6% of those detained by the police claim that violence was used against them during their detention or at the police station, according to the results of a "face-to-face" survey by BHC.
- In the case of "I. and others v. Bulgaria", the ECHR ruled that the state did not fulfill its obligation to protect the life of a young woman. She was threatened repeatedly by her husband because of her intention to leave him, and the authorities did nothing to prevent the murder.
- Nearly 80 institutions are operating either with an expired mandate or with incomplete staff. Between 20 - 25% of children in Bulgaria have two parents who work abroad.
Read the full report here.
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