A number of religious groups complained that the government did not consistently enforce legal and policy protections of religious freedom.
Many Muslim leaders continued to complain of harassment from the security services, saying that the national security services brought in members of the community for questioning as a form of intimidation and to create conflict within the community. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reported harassment from the local police in Kyustendil, claiming that on November 21, approximately 20 police officers entered the Kingdom Hall during the congregation’s meeting and checked the identity cards of those present. The officers did not offer any explanation for their actions.
A trial in Pazardjik District Court against 13 Muslim leaders continued during the year. The defendants had been charged, in 2011, with participating in an illegal organization; spreading anti-democratic, pro-sharia ideology aimed at undermining the rule of law and basic human rights; and preaching intolerance and hatred of other religious groups during Friday sermons. The grand mufti’s office continued to maintain the innocence of the defendants and labeled the proceedings an attack on religious freedom.
In October the Sofia Regional Court told the prosecution service it needed to rewrite an indictment against six persons. The individuals, including both Muslims and anti-Muslim protesters, had been charged in 2012 with hooliganism for their actions during the May 2011 assault by the protesters on Muslims attending Friday prayer in front of the Sofia mosque. The court said the prosecution service had committed procedural violations requiring correction before a trial could proceed.
In February the prosecution service filed a separate indictment on charges of hooliganism against another Muslim. At year’s end the case was ongoing in the Sofia Regional Court.
A number of small political parties made references to religion in controversial statements on political issues. For example, in October Magdalena Tasheva, a member of parliament from the Ataka party, referred to refugees as “a private Muslim army, trained for terrorist activities from camps along the Turkish-Syrian border.” The extreme nationalist party Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization continued to organize protests in front of the courthouse in Pazardjik against the wearing of religious attire and the propagation of Islam.
In May in response to a student’s 2012 complaint that she had been banned from attending school unless she stopped wearing a headscarf, the public Commission for Protection against Discrimination determined there had been no discrimination.
Some minority religious groups, including Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to complain of discrimination and prejudice from local authorities in certain municipalities, despite obtaining national registration from the Sofia City Court. Contrary to the law, some municipalities reportedly said the groups had to register locally.
In February the Burgas Municipal Council approved an amendment to the Ordinance for Preserving Public Order that prohibited door-to-door proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature. The Regional Governor of Burgas stopped the implementation of the amendment; however, after a change of government, the new regional governor allowed its implementation in September. The Directorate for Religious Affairs protested against the restriction and advised the affected religious groups to consider legal action.
Although the statute of limitations for restitution cases expired in 2013, a number of claims from the grand mufti’s office remained outstanding. In September the deputy grand mufti reported there were 52 claims on 83 properties in the country, including 13 former mosques and a former Islamic school.
In March the National Assembly issued a unanimous declaration related to the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jews and in tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, marking the first time Bulgaria’s legislature had expressed regret that Bulgarian authorities did not prevent the deportation of more than 11,000 Jews to death camps from regions under Bulgarian control during World War II.
The state budget allocated 4 million levs ($2.8 million) for registered religious groups. Of the total, 3.08 million levs ($2.2 million) were allocated for the BOC, 230,000 levs ($161,857) for the Muslim community, 35,000 levs for the Roman Catholic church ($24,631), 35,000 levs ($24,631) for the Armenian Apostolic Church, 30,000 levs ($21,112 ) for the Jewish community, 50,000 levs ($35,186) for other registered denominations, 40,000 levs ($28,149) for publication of religious books and research. Another 500,000 levs ($351,865) will remain in reserve, including 50,000 levs ($35,186) for creating a register of all religious facilities in the country.