Bulgaria: Minority religious activists condemn draft laws on religion

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Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 11:25:38 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Bulgaria: Minority religious activists condemn draft laws on religion

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Original sender: Greek Helsinki Monitor <balkanHR@greekhelsinki.gr>

Bulgaria: Minority religious activists condemn draft laws on

Last month a third Draft Law on Religion were introduced in the
National Assembly. This was the reason why on July 08, 1999 a big
conference which got together more than 250 minority religious
activists was organized by Tolerance Foundation in co-operation with
the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and Bulgarian Centre for Human
Rights. It took place in Sofia. The aim of the conference was to
discuss Draft Laws on Religion that now are under discussion in the
Commission on Human Rights and Religion in the Bulgarian Parliament.

The special guest of the conference was Mr. Maurice Verfaillie, the
Secretary General of the International Association for Defence of
Religious Liberties. Mr. Ivan Sungarsky,  Chief of the Parliamentary
Commission on Human Rights and Religion, Mr. Lubomir Mladenov,
Director of the Directorate of Religious Affairs as well as Mr.
Constantine Todorov, Secretary to the President of Bulgaria attended
the conference.

The last Draft that was introduced by two MP belonging to the ruling
coalition UtDF (United Democratic Forces) and has created by the
officials of the Religious Directorate was the main topic of the
discussion. There are two other Drafts Law. One of them has been made
by the main opposition party – Bulgarian Socialist Party (the former
communists) and the second one has been created by VMRO (Internal
Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, that is a small nationalist
party, member of the ruling coalition UtDF).

Krassimir Kanev, Chairperson of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and
Emil Cohen, President of Tolerance Foundation delivered a special
report devoted to a critical analysis of presented drafts. Mr. Plamen
Bogoev, Executive Director of the Bulgarian Centre for Human Rights
made a juridical analysis of the shortcomings of the drafts and Mr.
Verfaillie informed about the negative opinion toward them of the
organisation that he represents. After these speeches the general
discussion was open. The main focus of the criticism was the Draft Law
presented by the Directorate of Religious Affairs. All religious
leaders that made speeches pointed out their sharp criticism mainly
towards this draft because it has a biggest chance to become a law.
They expressed their anxiety from the principal shortcomings of the
draft, namely the focusing of too much power in the hands of the
executive as well as the strong restrictions over the activities of
the religious communities that are envisaged in the draft. They also
said that they were worried with the speed with which the drafts were
introduced and with the enormous hurry with which the discussion
begun. A lot of them said that this hurry aims at avoiding the public
criticism of the draft. In this direction many religious leaders said
that they had only one week to make their notes on the all three
drafts. According to the draft the Religious Directorate gets new
powers. It can refuse a registration of a religious institution also
it is empowered to refuse a building of new places of worship. In the
opinion of the participants this provision has an intention to create
troubles before the building especially of new mosques. According to
this draft any activities of a religious group without registration is
forbidden and violations have to be punished by heavy fines. Also only
one religious institution on the same religious base could be created.
This provision means that, for instance, the all three Adventist
Churches that are presently registered in Bulgaria have to be united.
There are also many other shortcomings in this draft.

The conclusion of the general discussion was that the draft, if it
becomes a law will violate too seriously the religious human rights of
the Bulgarian citizens. In essence, this draft is a new version of the
old totalitarian Denomination Act that was adopted on 1949.

After the end of discussion a special Address directed to the National
Assembly adopted. It was signed by more than 15 leaders of the
minority religious communities in Bulgaria, including the leaders of
the two main religious minorities – Muslims and Catholics. The Address
was announced on July 15 at a special press conference and during the
next week will be introduced in the National Assembly.

We hope that the members of the Parliament will pay attention to the
desire of the religious minorities and will not adopt a new
restrictive Law on Religion.
For Tolerance Foundation:
Emil Cohen, President
Tolerance Foundation is human rights group, monitoring the freedom of
conscience and the religious freedom practices in Bulgaria, providing
legal assistance to victims of discrimination based on religion, as
well as propagating the idea for tolerance towards religious and other
The group was founded in 1994. President of the Tolerance Foundation
is Mr. Emil Cohen.
Address: 1000 Sofia, 163A “Rakovsky” St., phone/fax: (+359 2)981 23
e-mail: toleranc@geobiz.com
ENCLOSURE: full text of the Address
from the participants in the conference on ‘Human Rights Problems of
the Draft Laws on Religious Denominations Discussed by the National
Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria’

We, the participants in the conference on ‘Human Rights Problems of
the Draft Laws on Religious Denominations Discussed by the National
Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria’, in expressing our
dissatisfaction with the draft laws on religious denominations which
are already submitted to the National Assembly, address the National
Assembly with the request:

1.  To pass a law that would exclude all and any kinds of
administrative interference with the internal organizational life of
religious communities, include only such restrictions in their
external manifestations which are provided in the international law,
and put on a non-discriminatory basis the relationship between the
state and religious institutions as well as among religious
institutions themselves.

2.  To make the law correspond to the regulations, practices and
canons of the denominations already registered and avoid a
re-registration procedure.

3.  To guarantee that all aspects in the professing of religion
(including the creation of religious schools and the construction of
prayer houses) are secured in correspondence to the needs of the
believers and in coordination with the central managing bodies of

4.  Not to allow discrimination in punitive sanctions, thus to make
denominations equal in this respect to all other organizations and
citizens in the Republic of Bulgaria.

5.  Not to allow the passing of a law without a public discussion by
official representatives of all religious communities and institutions
in the Republic of Bulgaria.
Sofia, July 08, 1999
Signed by:

1.  Monsignor Hristo Proykov, Chairman of the Episcopal Conference of
the Roman Catholic Church in Bulgaria
2.  Evelin Nikolov Velinov
3.  Pastor Pavel Ignatov, Chairman of the Bulgarian Evangelical
Alliance and Head elder of the Bulgarian Church of God
4.  Pastor Georgi Mihazlov, the Shalom Evangelical Church of Christ
5.  Pastor Vassil Elenkov, United Churches of God
6.  Hristo Ivanov Chakalov, Bulgarian Church of God
7.  Representative of the Church of Seventh-Day Adventists
8.  Elena Shtilianova, Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints
9.  Ali Mehmedov, member of the Central Bureau of the Movement for
Rights and Freedoms, responsible for human rights in the spiritual
10.  Iliya Beyazov, the Gedeon Christian Association
11.  Tsvetan Vladimirov, the Gedeon Christian Association
12.  Office of the Head Mufti of Muslims in Bulgaria - Ali Hayraddin,
Regional Mufti of Sofia
13.  Assoc. Prof. Ibrahim Yalimov, Rector of the Higher Islamic
14.  Mladen Balabanov, Society for Krishna Consciousness
15.  Pastor T. Enchev
16.  Margarita Borissova
17.  Prof. Dr. Ivan Kalchev, President of the Bulgarian Philosophical
18.  Ekaterina Katrafilova
19.  Nevena Stefanova, attorney-at-law
20.  Viktor P. Kostov, attorney-at-law
21.  Nina Bardarova, Family Federation
22.  Mihail Sergeev, Unification Movement
23.  Gergana Hristova, Association of yoga
24.  Pastor Tsanko Mitev, chairman of the Bulgarian Association for
the Promotion and Protection of Religious Freedom and authorized
representative of the Church of Seventh-Day Adventists
25.  Bisser Georgiev Boychev, Chairman of the Board of the Association
of the Holy Spirit for the Unification of the World Christianity
(Unification Church)
26.  Tinko Petrov Tinev, Association of the Holy Spirit for the
Unification of the World Christianity, Chairman of the Foundation of
Families for Unification and Peace Worldwide
27.  Angel Angelov Stefanov, Inter-university Federation for the Study
of Principles
28.  Diana Milcheva van der Stok, Women’s Federation for Peace in the
29.  Rumiana Russeva, Family Federation for World Peace at the
Unification Movement
30.  Uve Arend, Family Federation for Peace in the World
31.  Nedelcho Stefanov Bardarov, Association of the Holy Spirit for
the Unification of the World Christianity
32.  Andrey Angelov
33.  Pastor Plamen Vassilev
34.  Petromir Ivanov Kanchev
35.  Lyubomir Ivanov Penchev
36.  Lyuboslav Kostadinov Lyubenov, United Church of God - 7,
Institute for the Principles of Justice
37.  Ridvan Tefikov Yumerov, Supreme Islamic Council
38.  Vladimir Dimitrov Kehayov (Ramadan Mehmedov Kehayov) - Muslim
Community, town of Smolyan
39.  Pastor Zhivko Tonchev and Mrs. Neli Toncheva, the Blagovestie
[‘Good News’] Christian Church, Bulgarian Church of God, town of
40.  Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Tatarli
41.  Krassimir Momchev, Bulgarian Christian Coalition
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