Security was tightened at the district court in Pazardzhik on October 29 2012 as the trial resumed of 13 Muslims alleged to have advocated the violent overthrow of the Bulgarian state and its replacement with an Islamic theocracy.
Compounding the situation was a planned protest by Bulgarian ultra-nationalists who said that they would be at the court to stand in support of a secular state and against the wearing of Muslim garb.
The trial started on September 18 and has seen incidents after large crowds who turned out in support of the accused being unable to be accommodated in the courtroom.
Seven witnesses were due to be heard by the court on October 29, of whom three were scheduled to give evidence anonymously.
Evidence was also to be given about official translations of books confiscated by the State Agency for National Security (SANS) during the operation that led to the prosecutions.
Those accused of spreading anti-democratic ideology and religious hatred are the Muslim regional muftis of Pazardzhik and Smolyan.
Ahead of the resumption of the trial and because of the planned protest by ultranationalists Ataka and VMRO, Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov issued an appeal for calm.
Law enforcement said that provocations would not be allowed and police would intervene swiftly in the event of incidents.
The 13 accused were arrested in October 2010, following a series of raids carried out by prosecutors, the Interior Ministry and SANS, Bulgaria’s main intelligence agency. All of them were charged with being members of the Al-Waqf Al-Islami organisation, not recognised by Bulgaria as a religious group.
(Although the organisation was reportedly registered in Bulgaria in 1993, under the country’s law on the registration of religious groups, it was denied registration the following year. In 1999, one of its leaders was expelled from Bulgaria as a threat to national security.)
Only three defendants – Said Mehmet Moutlou, Abdoullah Moustafa Salih and Ahmed Moussa Ahmed – face charges of preaching religious hatred and anti-democratic ideology aimed at undermining the secular state and democratic values. Said Moutlou was, according to the prosecution, the leader of the Al-Waqf Al-Islami branch in southern Bulgaria (covering the districts of Pazardjik, Smolyan and Blagoevgrad) since 2005 and until his arrest in October 2010.
Following a lengthy investigation, resulting in 31 volumes of evidence to be presented in court, charges were finally pressed in June 2012.
(Photo: Jason Morrison)