Bulgaria’s Parliament has voted broad powers for the National Protection Service, confirming police powers for it, the right to detain offenders, to damage cars blocking their way – and, controversially, to provide security for people beyond those holding state or government office.
The practice of providing security for people other than those in government or top state posts has frequently been the subject of questions over the years, including in the case of Ahmed Dogan, the founder and former long-term leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, who in January 2013 stepped down from the party leadership and is no longer an MP.
The National Assembly voted legislation regarding the National Protection Service on July 29, the first time in more than 20 years that there is legislation covering the service, which until now operated only according to its own internal regulations.
The body now becomes a “specialised paramilitary service” with police powers, the right to detain offenders and practically uncontrolled behaviour on the road.
The provision to provide security to people other than those holding state office, on the grounds of national security, was proposed by Parliament’s largest party and the majority partner in government, GERB, after a proposal by the Reformist Bloc was defeated, which said that such security should be provided only if appropriate and where the person being given protection could not pay for it himself.
Among those who objected to this provision was Valentin Kasabov, an MP for the nationalist Patriotic Front – one of the minority parties supporting the government – who said that the clause was about the “chief hydrologist of the state”.
This was a reference to the extremely lucrative contract that Dogan had held a few years ago in respect of the Tsankov Kamuk hydro-power project, an issue that was the subject of questions at the time because Dogan has no academic qualification connected to hydro-electric matters.
Another PF MP, Dimitar Bayraktarov, said that the power given to National Protection Service personnel to detain people was unconstitutional and would open the door to arbitrariness. The clause would mean work for the European Court of Human Rights, he said.
The law also provides a prohibition on the use of physical force or special techniques and methods against minors and pregnant women, “except in cases of mass riots in which there is imminent threat to the life of the protected person and when all other means are exhausted”.
Kasabov questioned this, saying that “there are cases where there is no way to know whether a woman is pregnant”.
The National Protection Service will be entitled to check identity documents, baggage, cargo, vehicles or other objects.
As part of a package of amendment bills proposed by Tsvetan Tsvetan, leader of the GERB parliamentary group and a former interior minister, the National Assembly also adopted an amendment framework for management and operation of the system for the protection of national security.
Among the provisions is that the security council at the cabinet will meet at least every three months. The Prime Minister will be empowered to convene the council in the event of important events concerning national security.
The council includes various security and intelligence chiefs and will draw in other senior officials from various ministries and departments as required.