In Bulgaria, minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), while Muslims reported incidents of harassment and hostile rhetoric by members of some political parties and said the government failed to prosecute religiously motivated attacks against their members.
Jewish organizations expressed concern over hate speech and commemoration of World War 2 figures associated with Nazism, the US State Department said in its annual report on religious freedom, covering 2016.
US ambassador Eric Rubin met with Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova twice to discuss religious tolerance issues, including to protest a march to commemorate a pro-Nazi, World War 2-era politician, the report said. This was a reference to an annual torchlight march by ultra-right groups in honour of General Hristo Lukov, which is replete with neo-Nazi symbolism.
The US embassy also issued a statement urging people to speak out against intolerance following the march, the report said.
Jewish community leaders continued to express concern over increasing incidents of anti-Semitism on social media and online forums. They said examples included accusations that Jews hated all other people and were enemies of the state, that Jews caused the crises in the Middle East with the intent to cause a refugee wave that would destroy Europe, and statements such as “Crush the dastardly Jewish scum! Khazar plague!” In some cases, the same statements were reposted or shared on mainstream media websites.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and the Office of the Grand Mufti continued to report incidents of desecration such as painted swastikas, offensive graffiti, and broken windows in their places of worship. On several occasions, vandals painted graffiti on the mosques in Karlovo, Pleven, and Medovets.
In September vandals spray-painted nationalist symbols on the front of the Office of the Grand Mufti. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported vandalism involving the throwing of stones and breaking of windows at their prayer houses in Pleven on April 21 and in Sofia on April 21 and July 30. Police had not made arrests in any of the incidents by year’s end.
The State Department report, released on August 15, noted that in September 2016, Bulgaria’s National Assembly approved a law restricting the wearing of face-covering garments in public places.
In July, Bulgaria’s Supreme Cassation Court vacated the guilty verdict of one Muslim leader charged with spreading Salafi Islam and hatred of other religious groups.
In February the Pazardjik District Court started a trial of 14 Roma Muslims for propagating antidemocratic ideology and incitement to war and aiding foreign fighters.
Schools banned the wearing of religious symbols, including the hijab and cross, and some local governments continued to deny requests to construct new mosques or repair old ones.
The Supreme Cassation Court suspended the Muslim community’s restitution claims, pending review of whether it was the rightful successor to confiscated properties. Minority groups reported discrimination and prejudice from local authorities in certain municipalities.
Muslims, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of vandalism against their places of worship.
The US embassy regularly discussed discrimination cases and the construction of new places of worship with government officials and infringements of religious freedom with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and the US ambassador discussed religious affairs with the then-Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov.
The US ambassador wrote to a newspaper expressing disappointment in its publication of Jewish caricatures, after which the editor issued an apology.
Embassy officials discussed religious freedom concerns with minority religious groups, especially the Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, the report said.
(Photo, of the Sofia Central Synagogue: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer)