US State Department report notes assaults, harassment of minority religions in Bulgaria
Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported multiple cases of physical assaults, harassment, and threats against members of their communities in Bulgaria, while Protestant pastors reported harassment from Orthodox priests, who said the pastors represented “sects”, a US State Department annual report said.
The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 noted that the retrial of 13 regional Muslim leaders charged with spreading Salafi Islam continued, as did the trial of14 Romani Muslims charged with propagating antidemocratic ideology, inciting war, and aiding foreign fighters.
In June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled the government’s denial of a registration application by the Ahmadiyya Muslim community constituted a violation of religious freedom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported continued assaults and harassment and a continuing campaign against them by members of the United Patriots coalition in the National Assembly.
Schools continued to ban the wearing of religious symbols.
Minority religious groups reported increased local prohibitions on proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature.
The Muslim community reported difficulty in obtaining construction permits for new places of worship and restitution of property confiscated by the communist regime.
Protestants and other minority religious groups reported discrimination by government officials.
Jewish organisations expressed concern over the government’s failure to prosecute growing anti-Semitism on social media, the US State Department report said.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and minority religious groups expressed concern over proposals for legislation restricting religious activities.
The government established the position of national coordinator for combating anti-Semitism and adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
The Office of the Grand Mufti blamed the government for financial difficulties resulting in its inability to pay imams.
Despite protests resulting in denial of official permission to stage the annual march honouring pro-Nazi Second World War figure Hristo Lukov, the march took place.
Jewish NGOs expressed concern over the increase of hate speech and other manifestations of anti-Semitism, the report said.
According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, some media outlets continued to misrepresent their activities and encouraged their harassment.
Muslims, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported incidents of vandalism against their property. Christian and Muslim groups held commemorative events to promote religious tolerance.
The US embassy regularly discussed cases of religious discrimination, the harassment of religious minorities, and legislative initiatives proposing restrictions on religious activities in meetings with government officials, including in the Directorate for Religious Affairs, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Commission for Protection Against Discrimination, local government, and law enforcement.
US ambassador Eric Rubin protested the march to commemorate Hristo Lukov, and the embassy issued a statement condemning hate speech and the incitement of violence.
The ambassador advocated tolerance and cited lessons from the Holocaust in speeches at public events and in meetings with religious groups and NGOs, the report said.
Rubin discussed the restitution of historical property, draft legislation imposing restrictions on religious freedom, and other challenges facing the Muslim community with the Chief Mufti and the Kurdzhali regional mufti.
Embassy officials met with minority religious groups, including the Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Armenian, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, to discuss their concerns over existing restrictions on their activities and proposals by political figures for further restrictions.
In March, the embassy co-hosted a religious tolerance workshop, bringing together religious leaders, government officials, and NGOs. Also in March, the ambassador spoke on the importance of building on the country’s heritage of religious tolerance at a Tolerance and Mutual Understanding Day in Kurdzhali, the report said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)