Bulgaria steps up legislation against hate crimes

Bulgaria’s Parliament has approved the second reading of several amendments to the Penal Code, including provisions against hate crimes, among them harsher penalties for murder, assault, abduction and denial of employment rights if the motive is the victim’s sexual orientation.

These amendments, tabled by the We Continue the Change-Democratic Bulgaria coalition, include that if premeditated murder is committed on the basis of homophobic or racist motives, the sentence may be imprisonment of 15 to 20 years, life imprisonment or life imprisonment without parole.

The amendments also step up punishments when people with alternative sexuality are victims of bodily injury, kidnapping, or illegal imprisonment.

Incitement to hatred through the media or on the internet will now be a crime when it involves skin colour, national origin and sexual orientation, not just race and ethnicity as the law has provided up to now. The penalty will be one to four years in prison and a fine of 5000 to 10 000 leva.

Imprisonment is also introduced in cases of assault, destruction of property and attacks by organised mobs on the basis of homophobia or racism.

Preventing someone from taking up employment, or forcing the person to leave employment on homophobic grounds will result in a sentence of up to three years in prison.

In a statement on July 28, the GLAS (Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society) Foundation welcomed the amendments as “the first significant legislative change in favour of LGBTI+ people in Bulgaria since the Protection from Discrimination Act was adopted in 2004”.

The GLAS Foundation said that the amendments had become possible after many years of work and public pressure on the part of LGBTI organisations in Bulgaria, international and European institutions and numerous activists and public figures.

“Sofia Pride also insisted on this change since its first edition in 2008 – the year in which the student Mihail Stoyanov was murdered in Borissova Gradina with openly homophobic motives,” the foundation said.

“This is the most tragic case of a hate crime based on an alleged sexual orientation. The investigation and sentencing would have been different had the changes approved today been in place.”

There would also have been a more effective investigation of the beating of Galya Petkova in Sofia in 2019, the attack and destruction of Rainbow Hub property in 2011, as well as the attack on and thwarting of the screenings of the film Close in Sofia and Varna, the foundation said.

It said that work would continue in order to achieve the other strategic goals of the LGBTI movement in Bulgaria.

In another set of amendments, MPs increased the penalties for the drivers who cause road accidents.

For causing death on the road, for example, due to negligence, the punishment is increased to three to eight years, from the current two to six years. In especially severe cases, the punishment becomes five to 12 years in prison, from the current three to 10 years.

The amendments also increase the penalties for cases in which there are aggravating circumstances, for example when the driver is drunk or has consumed illegal narcotics, if the driver does not have a driving licence or flees the scene of an accident, or hits someone at a pedestrian crossing.

Up to now, the penalties in such cases were three to 15 years in prison, and in especially severe cases, five to 20 years. The punishments now become, respectively, five to 15 years, and in especially severe cases, 10 to 20 years in prison.

Other amendments to the Penal Code provide for stiffer penalties for taking people across the border illegally. The previous punishment was imprisonment of up to five years, and it now becomes a minimum three years in prison and a maximum five years, with a maximum of 10 years if minors are trafficked.

Those who conceal illegal immigrants, and those who help them cross the interior of the country, will face imprisonment of one to six years.

On labour rights, the approved amendments provide that forcing someone to join a trade union or forcing someone to refuse to join a trade union will carry a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 5000 leva. These penalties also will apply in the case of attempting to prevent the founding of a trade union.

More severe penalties were introduced for people who organize or conduct animal fights. Treating cruelly a vertebrate animal, causing its death or severe mutilation will result in one to four years in prison and a fine from 1000 to 5000 leva, up from a maximum custodial sentence of three years so far.

Where the act amounts to a case of dangerous recidivism, the penal sanction will be deprivation of liberty for two to five years and a fine ranging from 5000 to10 000 leva.

MPs approved reduced penalties for insulting an official or a member of the public in the performance of their official duties. The minimum penalty is reduced from 3000 leva to 500 leva. In the case of defamation, which Bulgarian law treats as a crime, the minimum penalty is decreased from 5000 leva to 1000 leva.

(Photo: Sofia Pride)

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