A Bulgarian citizen of the Muslim faith, Veli Karaahmed, has lodged a complaint against Bulgaria in the European Court of Human Rights in connection with the May 2011 incident in which members of Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist Ataka party clashed with Muslims outside the Banya Bashi Mosque in central Sofia.
The incident, which turned violent, took place during Friday prayers after Ataka members protested against the mosque sounding the traditional Muslim call to prayer.
At the time, it had immediate political consequences for Ataka, which was condemned across the political spectrum, while Siderov and his party became estranged from Boiko Borissov and his then-ruling party, GERB.
Siderov, who in the first years after Borissov became prime minister in 2009 effectively supported the GERB government, now regards it as his political enemy and offered this as a motivation for his May 2013 move to provide the quorum in Parliament that made the current Bulgarian Socialist Party – Movement for Rights and Freedoms cabinet possible.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), which is providing legal aid to Karaahmed, said that he was among direct victims of the Islamophobic aggression on the part of leaders, members and supporters of Ataka, including Siderov.
The BHC said that television recordings from the incident reflect how people from Ataka were shouting anti-Muslim and anti-Turkish slogans, as well as throwing eggs and stones, spitting on Muslim prayer rugs and setting fire to a prayer rug.
Karaahmed’s claim before the court is that the Bulgarian state failed to protect him, either before or after the fact.
The Sofia municipality did not prevent the violent demonstration near the house of worship, precisely at a time when prayers were being said.
The police had failed to neutralise the aggression. Prosecutors had failed to include Karaahmed as a party in pre-trial proceedings initiated at the time for hate speech.
Neither Siderov or any of the members or activists of Ataka had been criminally indicted in connection with the attack, the BHC said.
Karaahmed is arguing to the ECHR that the collective and political anti-Muslim aggression of which he was a victim constitutes degrading treatment, in violation of his right to freedom from such treatment in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The passive conduct of the authorities was a violation of their obligation to provide him with effective protection against such breaches. The investigator who had questioned Karaahmed had been disrespectful and biased against him as a Muslim, re-victimising rather than showing a protective attitude, according to the application.
The BHC said that the attack on the mosque in May 2011 was not an isolated act by Siderov and Ataka but was part of an overall, long-term Islamophobic campaign against Muslims in Sofia and elsewhere in the country. This was public knowledge, including to national authorities, but in cowardly fashion they tolerated it, the statement alleged.
(Photo of the Banya Bashi mosque, Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)