Clauses in Bulgaria’s controversial proposed new Penal Code are said to be set for redrafting after causing outrage among human rights groups and other organisations.
Since being posted on the Justice Ministry website, the text has led to concerns about its proposed provisions being used against foreign-linked NGOs, as well as to limit photography exposing corrupt politicians or even depicting anti-government protests, while there also have been complaints about ambiguous and obscure use of language.
The text was posted on the website in late December 2013, apparently to meet official promises to do so by deadline and apparently also to respond to expectations that Bulgaria’s current government will come in for sharp criticism when a scheduled European Commission report on the country’s performance in terms of EU justice and home affairs standards comes out in the third week of January.
Zinaida Zlatanova, the former European Commission official who currently is justice minister in the Bulgarian Socialist Party government that took office in May, told local media that some texts would be “clarified” before the proposed draft is presented to the Cabinet.
She repeated that provisions criminalising, with a one-year jail term, the filming and photographing of persons without their express consent would be removed from the draft.
Texts that would be “clarified” included one that was among those that was the subject of concern by human rights group the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, providing for two to eight years in jail for a Bulgarian citizen found to be “in the service of another country or a foreign organisation or an organisation under foreign control, in order to serve to the detriment of Bulgaria”.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee had said that the provision could be exploited as a weapon against human rights activists.
Zlatanova claimed that “for any lawyer” it was clear that this provision was meant to apply in wartime. But because “not everyone is a lawyer” more details would be included in the provisions, she said.
After strong opposition from animal rights organisations, a proposal to reduce the penalties for cruelty to animals would not go ahead.
She denied that the draft had been rushed out to anticipate the January 22 European Commission report on Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism put in place when the country joined the EU, to bring it up to the bloc’s judiciary and law enforcement standards. According to Zlatanova, the draft was the work of three successive governments.
Speaking on January 12 to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee president Krassimir Kanev said that the Penal Code did contain some improvements “but all of these things are done within a criminal law doctrine that is not modern, that is obsolete, has strong elements of communist criminal law”.
Meanwhile, on January 13 President Rossen Plevneliev also has criticised the draft Penal Code, saying that his team would explore the changes and he would decide whether he should impose a veto.