Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and authorities generally enforced its provisions when violations came to their attention. Sentences for rape range from two to eight years in prison or from three to 10 years if the victim is under 18 years of age or a lineal descendant. When rape results in serious injury or attempted suicide, sentences range between three and 15 years’ imprisonment and, when the victim is a minor, between 10 and 20 years.
While authorities could prosecute spousal rape under the general rape statute, they rarely did so. According to the Alliance for Protection against Gender-based Violence, the law does not criminalize all forms of violence against women and the government does not implement consistent policies with adequate funding for prevention and protection of women against violence. Data from the National Statistics Institute showed that statutory rape convictions in 2015 dropped by 31 percent compared to 2014 and by 80 percent compared to 2011. On March 13, the fourth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event took place in Sofia to raise awareness about domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexism.
The law defines domestic violence as any act, or attempted act, of sexual violence or physical, psychological, emotional, or economic pressure against members of one’s family or between cohabiting persons. It empowers courts to impose fines, issue restraining or eviction orders, or require special counseling. Noncompliance with a restraining order may result in imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of 5,000 levs ($2,800). According to a September survey jointly conducted by three NGOs (the Partners Bulgaria Foundation, the Center for the Study of Democracy, and Human Rights Academy), 40 percent of police officers, and 30 percent of social workers believed that the rate of domestic violence had increased over the previous several years. A June analysis by the Gender Alternatives Foundation found that 99 percent of the prosecutions for noncompliance with restraining orders ended with convictions, but the courts imposed minimal punishments, mostly due to plea bargaining, which was perceived as downgrading the seriousness of domestic violence as an offense as well as the importance of restraining orders.
According to the Center for the Study of Democracy, 70 to 80 percent of domestic violence cases remain unreported. According to an April report by the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation, the rate was as high as 90 percent among Romani women due to fear and lack of family and institutional support.
The Animus Association Foundation operated a free hotline for women in crisis, funded through a two-year government grant. As of September, the hotline had worked with 1,166 clients, including 790 survivors of domestic violence and 13 survivors of sexual violence. The hotline operator expressed concern that its future was uncertain, as funding was only available through grants and was only sufficient to operate 12 hours per day rather than around the clock. The Animus Association Foundation and other NGOs provided short-term protection and counseling to victims in 20 crisis centers and shelters throughout the country.
Police and social workers referred victims of domestic violence to NGO-run shelters, but NGOs complained that local authorities rarely provided financial assistance for their operating costs. The government provided standard annual funding for crisis centers at a level of 8,251 levs ($4,600) per client and for social support centers at 2,865 levs ($1,600) per client. Women’s rights organizations continued to insist the government lacked strong gender equality and domestic violence policies, despite having an annual action plan in both areas.
Sexual Harassment: The law identifies sexual harassment as a specific form of discrimination rather than a criminal offense, although prosecutors may identify cases in which harassment involves coercion. If prosecuted as coercion, sexual harassment is punishable by up to six years in prison.
Harassment remained an underreported problem. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported seven complaints of sexual harassment as of October, an increase from the one complaint it received for the same period in 2015. In May a female police officer took Deputy Prosecutor General Borislav Sarafov to court for pressuring her due to her investigative actions, using vulgar and sexist language, and threatening her with undue punishment in front of other prosecutors and police officers. The officer subsequently withdrew her claim “in the spirit of good will and understanding,” stating that Sarafov had apologized for his insults. The Supreme Judicial Council and the Judicial Inspectorate stated they were not in a position to take disciplinary action on the case.
Reproductive Rights: The government generally respected the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Women in poor rural areas and marginalized communities had less access to contraception due to poverty and lack of education. Skilled attendance at childbirth was sometimes less available due to lack of health insurance.
Discrimination: While the law provides women the same legal status and rights as men, including to equal pay for equal work, women faced some discrimination in economic participation and political empowerment (see section 7.d.).
In April the National Assembly passed a gender equality law that establishes equal opportunities in all spheres of public, economic, and political life, equal access to all public resources, equal treatment and exclusion of gender-based discrimination and violence, balanced representation of men and women in all decision-making authorities, and overcoming of gender-based stereotypes. The law establishes a National Council on Equality between Women and Men, headed by the minister of labor and social policy, as a consultative and coordination body between the central and local governments and civil society. Half of the ministers in the cabinet were women, but women represented only 9 percent of municipal mayors. Some Romani communities followed patriarchal traditions that restricted women’s participation in public, economic, and social life.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents. The law requires the registration of all births within seven days without discriminating between boys and girls. Authorities did not register children born to asylum seekers, however, until the mother received either refugee or humanitarian status.
Education: While public education is universal and compulsory until the age of 16 and free through the 12th grade, authorities did not effectively enforce attendance requirements. According to the State Agency for Child Protection (SACP) and NGOs, 23.2 percent of Romani children did not attend school.
Child Abuse: Violence against children continued to be a problem. In April the ombudsman reported that the number of reported cases of violence against children in schools had increased more than 100 percent in less than one year. The SACP registered the same rate of reports of child abuse in 2015 as the year before. The government has an interagency coordination mechanism for children who are either survivors or at risk of violence. The interagency mechanism is tasked with cooperating in crisis interventions but the multidisciplinary teams implementing it complained of a lack of access to social services and a lack of qualified experts in many municipalities. According to the Animus Association Foundation, discussion of sexual violence against children remained a social taboo.
In January the Supreme Administrative Prosecution Service acted upon an ombudsman’s report and ordered inspections of all correctional boarding schools, uncovering cases of physical and psychological violence and of degrading treatment of children by staff. Similar inspections in 2014 revealed similar violations, and the prosecution service concluded that the measures taken by authorities have not been effective.
NGOs continued to advocate closing all juvenile detention centers and reforming the juvenile justice system, which dated back to 1958.
The government funded an NGO-operated 24-hour free helpline that children could call for counseling, information, and support as well as to report abuse. Due to a rising number of calls, the government increased the number of helpline consultants from three to four, which made it possible to answer every second call instead of every third. During the first eight months of the year, helpline counselors received nearly 60,000 calls and carried out 6,684 consultations, 76 percent of which were with children and the rest with parents. More than 8 percent of the calls concerned cases of violence, with most of the callers in violence cases being adults reaching out on behalf of children. Helpline consultants referred 360 cases of children at risk to the child protection administration. Approximately one third of those cases involved children from rural areas where access to community services and programs was a problem due to isolation and insufficient funding. NGOs expressed concern that, in many cases, social workers, guided by conflicting laws, preferred to send a child out of an abusive home into an institution rather than to remove the abusive parent.
According to the National Institute of Statistics, the number of children registered with juvenile delinquency offices in 2015 increased 15 percent to 2,849. The most common reasons for registration were running away from home, drug abuse, vagrancy, and begging.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18. In exceptional cases, a person can enter into marriage at 16 with permission from the regional court. According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2015 there were 481 marriages of girls under 18, or 1.7 percent of total marriages, which continued an increasing trend since 2009, when the figure was 0.6 percent. In addition, there were 2,767 children born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 17 as well as 294 to mothers under 15. As of July, courts had sentenced 68 persons over a five-year period for cohabitating with a person less than 14 years of age, which is punishable by law with two to five years in prison; 63 of the sentences were suspended, however.
NGOs criticized authorities for treating early marriages and resulting early parenthood as an ethnic Romani rather than a gender problem, but acknowledged that child marriage was a pervasive problem in Romani communities and resulted in school dropouts, early childbirths, poor parenting, and spreading poverty. In February, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report which noted that the number of child marriages and early births in Romani communities has decreased in the previous 10 years, but the number of Romani girls who gave birth to a second or third child, while slightly lower, remained high. The law provides for in-kind allowance payments for underage mothers in order to avert child neglect. If a minor parent continues to attend school, however, his or her family is entitled to the full amount of the allowance as a lump sum.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code differentiates between forcing children into prostitution, for which it provides for two to eight years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 to 15,000 levs ($2,800 to $8,400), and child sex trafficking, for which it provides for three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 20,000 levs ($5,600 to $11,100). The legal minimum age for consensual sex is 14. The law prohibits child pornography and provides for up to six years in prison and a fine of up to 8,000 levs ($4,500) for violations.
Displaced Children: As of September 28, the State Agency for Refugees had received asylum applications for 1,857 unaccompanied minors and had issued refugee status to six and humanitarian status to another six. There were approximately 150 unaccompanied minors at any given time in refugee reception centers. The ombudsman reported that authorities registered unaccompanied minors as relatives of other asylum-seeking families in order to evade the legal prohibition on detaining minors alone. As a result, instead of receiving specialized assistance and protection, minors ended up in detention centers for adults. The ombudsman’s report further stated that refugee centers did not meet the minimum requirements for accommodating unaccompanied minors.
Institutionalized Children: As of February, the government had closed all residential care institutions for children with disabilities. Through August the government closed six institutions for parentless children and one for medical and social care as part of a plan to close all institutions by 2025 and replace them with community-based care. NGOs criticized the system of financing new centers by paying them per child staying per day, as it motivated them to fill the center to capacity without regard to the individual needs of the child. NGOs further criticized the deinstitutionalization process, noting that the new centers recreated the atmosphere of the larger institutions, serving as “final destinations” for children rather than developing their self-reliance and social inclusion skills. A November 2015 survey showed a high rate of societal tolerance to housing children in institutions rather than integrating them in larger society as well as to stigmatizing children with intellectual disabilities. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee was concerned that, despite its deinstitutionalization policy, the government continued to place children in institutions.
Most children in government institutions were not orphans; courts institutionalized children when they determined their families were unable to provide them adequate care. The government continued to inspect both the institutions and the new centers, uncovering malpractice and mistreatment of the children placed there. For example, in February the Minister of Education and Sciences fired the director of the correctional boarding school in Podem, following up on a State Agency for Child Protection recommendation that was based on the ombudsman’s report of violence and harassment at the school. A follow-up surprise inspection by the ombudsman in September found that, despite the change in leadership, the staff continued to impose unsanctioned punishments and that there was violence among students.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The 2011 census indicated there were 1,130 Jews living in the country. Local Jewish organizations estimated the actual number at 5,000.
Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly on social networking sites and as comments under online media articles. Jewish organizations indicated that during the year there were no extreme acts of anti-Semitism but remained concerned over government inaction and political leaders’ passivity in addressing minor and symbolic acts. They complained that the relevant authorities stopped paying attention to fan groups’ displaying of Nazi symbols during soccer games or treated them as sports hooliganism instead of hate crimes. According to B’nai B’rith Bulgaria, there was pressure at high political levels to revise Holocaust history. Jewish organizations demanded an apology from Sega daily, which in September printed a page of Jewish humor that included offensive epithets and caricatures. Taking advantage of antirefugee attitudes, certain nationalist online outlets and paramilitary “migrant hunting” organizations spread allegations that the Jews were causing the refugee crisis.
In February the mayor of Sofia declined to approve a rally in honor of a World War II general, Hristo Lukov, known for his anti-Semitic views and pro-Nazi activities. While the decision did not stop the event, it did limit its attendance and scope.
On October 4, Dyanko Markov brought a lawsuit against journalist Yuliana Metodieva of the online human rights platform Marginaliaafter she described him as a “prominent anti-Semite” in her article, “Careful with Anti-Semites, They Can Sue You.” In February the Sofia City Court terminated a defamation suit filed in 2015 by Markov against the editorial staff and oversight council members of Marginalia. Marginalia had posted a declaration reacting to an invitation by “anti-Semitic Markov” to a European Parliament event showcasing him as “an unbreakable spirit” that opposed communism. According to the journalists, Markov was a member of the anti-Semitic organization Union of Bulgarian National Legions that supported the deportation of Jews during World War II.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, health care, the judicial system, and provision of other government services. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions. The government focused most of its efforts on providing disability pensions, social services, and institutional care but lacked sufficient funds to modify infrastructure and implement active policies to improve public awareness. Specialized medical commissions (TELK) assessed a person’s health status and degree of reduced working ability in order to determine whether that person had a disability.
NGOs criticized the government for lack of access for persons with disabilities to information and communications, noting that only one newscast was available with sign language interpretation and that authorities made no information available in Braille. According to the ombudsman, the government did not make enough effort to integrate persons with disabilities into society to allow them to lead independent lives. Societal discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted. The Commission for Protection against Discrimination reported receiving an increased number of complaints of accessibility and employment discrimination.
While the law requires improved access to buildings for persons with disabilities, enforcement lagged in some new public works projects as well as in existing, unrenovated buildings. NGOs asserted that the public transport infrastructure was not adequately accessible, even some newly-built or renovated facilities, noting that underground passages that provide access to public transit platforms did not have elevators and that ramps were too steep. In June the Supreme Administrative Court confirmed a lower court’s decision that the National Assembly discriminated against persons with disabilities by not providing adequate access.
The law promotes the employment of persons with disabilities, providing employers with subsidies covering 30 to 50 percent of the cost of insurance and the full cost of adjusting and equipping workplaces to accommodate them. According to a government report released in June, in 2015 the Agency for Social Assistance found jobs for 44 percent of those registered with permanent disabilities. NGOs criticized the TELK model and advocated for its replacement with an individual assessment of each person with disabilities’ capacity to be a contributing member of society. They asserted that the system labeled persons with disabilities as “unfit for work” and ultimately subjected them to poverty. Over the past five years, the number of persons with disability pensions has tripled and the number of children with disabilities increased, according to the National Statistics Institute. NGOs alleged that the increase in both indicators did not result from deteriorating public health but rather from corruption in how the TELK system awards disability status, which is a prerequisite for individuals to receive benefits. There were reports of discrimination in labor and employment against persons with disabilities (see section 7.d.).
The country’s infrastructure did not provide persons with disabilities adequate access to education, health care, and community-level social services. Individuals with mental and physical disabilities often were housed in institutions located in remote areas, which separated them from the rest of society, made the hiring of qualified staff difficult, and limited access to medical assistance. According to the National Statistics Institute, approximately 18 percent of students with special education needs were enrolled in 64 “special schools” while the rest attended mainstream schools. Those studying in the special schools received diplomas that higher-level learning establishments did not recognize as qualifying them for further education. The education system also provided students with disabilities with “mixed” education combining mainstream courses with specifically designed courses based on the needs of individual students. According to Eurostat data, 45 percent of children with disabilities with specific education needs dropped out of school; NGOs blamed the high dropout rate on the school system not providing for their specific education needs. According to NGOs and the State Agency for Child Protection, the prevailing practice of considering childhood disability a medical issue, the lack of an inclusive social environment, and insufficient support infrastructure encouraged institutionalization.
Despite some incremental improvements, conditions in the country’s 79 institutions for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities remained poor. NGOs criticized the government for not moving toward an inclusive, community-oriented model of education, socialization, and health care for persons with disabilities. They also criticized the deinstitutionalization process, which moved large numbers of children and adults with disabilities from large residential institutions to small group homes but preserved the institutional approach to care.
The law provides specific measures for persons with disabilities to have access to the polls, including mobile ballot boxes. NGOs noted that most buildings used as polling stations, including schools and kindergartens, continued to be inaccessible, which made those specific measures pointless. The Central Electoral Commission admitted that gaps in the law and bad planning prevented mobile ballot boxes from responding to all requests during the November 6 presidential election and referendum.
The Interagency Council for Integration of Persons with Disabilities was responsible for developing policies to support persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, through its executive agency for persons with disabilities, was responsible for protecting the rights of such persons and worked with government-supported national representative organizations to that end. Some NGOs criticized the model, suggesting that, instead of meeting formalistic criteria such as territorial representation and membership size, the government should announce competitive and transparent tenders for which NGOs could bid. They also insisted that funding for providing services should be separate from funding for advocacy and capacity building. They remained concerned that incentives prioritize obtaining national representation over effective advocacy and that the lack of transparency regarding financial and other support to the national representative organizations affected those organizations’ independence.
According to the 2011 census, there were 325,345 Roma in the country, or less than 5 percent of the population, and 588,318 ethnic Turks, or approximately 9 percent of the population. Observers asserted these figures were inaccurate, since more than 600,000 persons did not answer the census question about their ethnic origin, and officials did not conduct a proper count in most Romani communities but rather made assumptions or failed to include figures for Roma altogether.
Societal discrimination and popular prejudice against Roma and other minority groups remained a problem. According to NGOs, despite Roma integration policies included in numerous official documents, such as the National Roma Integration Strategy of 2011, the government had no will, capacity, or resources to implement those policies. NGOs claimed that there were successful inclusion practices at the local level, but the government failed to adopt them at the national level. The media described Roma and other minority groups with discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language. Nationalist parties such as Ataka and the Patriotic Front based their political campaigns on strong anti-Roma, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric.
NGOs accused the government of being unwilling to address anti-Roma attitudes and hate speech. According to an Open Society Institute survey presented in July, Roma were most frequently the target of hate speech, comprising 92 percent of cases. In July the Commission for Protection against Discrimination imposed a 1,000 lev ($560) fine on the Ataka newspaper’s chief editor and the author of two articles for using offensive language when writing about Roma committing crimes. NGOs criticized the decision for failing to recognize that the deliberate portrayal of Roma as criminals equated to ethnic stereotyping of criminality. Politicians and prominent opinion makers continued publically to espouse racist and xenophobic opinions. In June member of parliament, leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, and coleader of the Patriotic Front Krasimir Karakachanov stated that whole regions of the country suffer from the aggression of the “gypsies [who are] marauding, beating, robbing, and raping old people on a daily basis.” In March mathematics professor and frequent participant in television talk shows Mihail Konstantinov said that migrants from Syria and Iraq were not refugees but criminal offenders who “require different treatment” because they are a “different biological species” “brought up in a completely different way, with different values, if you could call them values.”
The lack of prosecutions for hate crimes remained a problem, as did short and suspended sentences. On November 5, 30 year-old Ivan Nikolov killed an elderly Romani couple in their home in Pazardjik. After his arrest, Nikolov told authorities he had been inspired by a video of a patriotic song posted on social media and decided that the video was calling on him to “go out and kill gypsies.” As of December, the investigation was in progress and Nikolov remained in custody.
On July 11, the Pazardjik Regional Court approved a plea bargain giving 24-year-old Angel Kaleev a suspended 11-month sentence for ethnically motivated assault. On April 18, Kaleev beat a 17 year-old Rom, Mitko Yonkov, after Yonkov told him that they were equal, despite their different ethnicities. Kaleev filmed the attack himself and posted it online.
Many Roma continued to live in appalling conditions. According to a 2013 government-commissioned survey, the average Romani home was only 28 square meters (330 square feet), yet 55 percent had more than five occupants and only 4 percent had legally documented ownership. The survey further found that 28 percent had no electricity, 34 percent had no water supply, and 62 percent had no sewer connection. Several municipalities, including Stara Zagora, continued to initiate proceedings to demolish illegally built houses occupied by Roma without providing adequate alternative shelter to the occupants. In July the Stara Zagora municipal government proceeded with the eviction of approximately 150 persons and the demolition of their 26 dwellings built illegally on both municipal and private land. The mayor asserted the persons evicted were not local residents and had recently settled from other places and therefore the municipality had no commitment to them.
In May a fight between three ethnic Bulgarians and four Roma in Radnevo resulted in the ethnic Bulgarians’ being hospitalized in serious condition and the Roma arrested and charged with attempted manslaughter. The fight sparked anti-Roma protests that demanded the demolition of all illegal dwellings in the city. The protesters, joined by football fans, clashed with police who had arrived to guard the Romani neighborhood, and most of the women and children residents left out of fear. Many human rights organizations condemned the demolitions, accusing authorities of only focusing on Romani dwellings despite the great number of other illegal buildings throughout the country. According to the Equal Opportunities Initiative Association, authorities did not apply an equal standard to demolitions, evicting Roma from their sole residences and demolishing the home, but razing mostly secondary, nonresidential structures such as fences or garages when owned by ethnic Bulgarians. The organization also criticized the government for failing to ensure adequate protections or to provide alternatives for those left homeless and alleged that the forced evictions were intended to harass the Romani population.
The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens, but allows segregation of whole schools. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. According to NGOs, 75 percent of Roma students studied in a segregated environment. There were cases of ethnic Bulgarian students departing desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. The law requires that schools develop integration programs targeting students from vulnerable groups to prevent early dropouts and introduces standards for intercultural education.
NGO projects aimed at lowering the dropout rate among Romani students resulted in rates that in most places were less than 1 percent for elementary school students (first to fourth grade). Retaining Romani students beyond the age of 12 remained a problem for the government, which also lacked effective programs for reintegrating students who had dropped out. In July the Minister of Education and Sciences reported to the National Assembly that only 1 percent of Romani children enrolled in first grade completed 12th grade and that only 12 percent completed fifth grade. A UNICEF report in February listed early marriage as one of the main factors for dropping out of school, noting that 54 percent of married underage Romani girls have only elementary or lower-level education. Many students were demotivated and dropped out of school early due to a hostile or indifferent school environment. According to a 2015 Roma Education Fund assessment, 25 percent of teachers believed that Romani students should study in segregated schools and 20 percent were convinced that children from different ethnic backgrounds had different abilities.
Roma were subject to discrimination in employment and occupation (see section 7.d.).
Access to health services continued to be a problem for Roma. A 2013 government survey estimated that 30 percent of Roma had not signed up with a general practitioner (i.e., lacked health insurance) and 79 percent had no access to a dentist. In addition, the quality of medical care given to Roma was very low. The survey further found that two-thirds of Roma did not qualify for social security, which would affect their future retirement and access to health and social services. The National Network of Health Mediators continued to operate as a successful model of partnership with the national and local governments for addressing lack of Romani access to health services. As of September, local authorities employed more than 130 health mediators appointed to full-time positions in 72 municipalities to work with high-risk and vulnerable groups.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but the government did not effectively enforce this prohibition.
While reports of violence against LGBTI persons were rare, societal discrimination, particularly in employment, remained a problem. Most LGBTI persons did not reveal their sexual preferences to their families for fear of losing relationships with their loved ones. NGOs stated that it was common for persons suspected of being gay to be fired, and such individuals were reluctant to seek redress in court due to fear of being identified as belonging to the LGBTI community.
On June 18, the ninth annual LGBTI pride parade took place in downtown Sofia. As in previous years, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church issued a statement “resolutely opposing the attempts to present and establish such a sinful tendency as the norm in our society, as a reason for pride and a role model.” The municipal councilors from Ataka and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization called upon the mayor of Sofia to ban the parade as it was a “political rally with political goals that violates traditional Bulgarian values, morality, and decency and is a provocation to family values.” The parade attracted approximately 2,000 participants, but the municipality allowed an antipride counterevent of approximately 100 participants to proceed at the same time, with a route overlapping the pride parade at a few spots. In one incident, two men snuck into the pride parade and tried to rip one participant’s rainbow flag out of his hands. Three antipride protesters intimidated a couple leaving the party held after the march, one of whom used pepper spray for self-protection. Four persons, including the couple, were detained briefly by police at the police station, and pride organizers claimed police did nothing to protect the couple as they left, despite taunts and threats by a group of antipride demonstrators who had gathered outside.
HIV and AIDS Societal Stigma
According to the national program for HIV prevention and control, “despite the enormous medical progress in HIV treatment little has been achieved in terms of overcoming the stigma and discrimination [associated with HIV]. Negative societal attitudes have a strong impact on persons with HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination are the main challenges for the social reintegration of persons with HIV and place a significant barrier to receiving the necessary treatment, care, and support.”
There were reports that patients with HIV/AIDS faced inadequate conditions in medical facilities and discrimination from doctors, who refused to provide treatment out of fear of contracting the disease. Patients typically did not contest these incidents in court because of the social stigma attached to having HIV/AIDS. Nearly one-fifth of HIV-positive patients reported hiding their condition in order to receive emergency medical care or avoid transfer to a specialized unit where they might receive inadequate help.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
In the morning of October 27, two men assaulted the president of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Krasimir Kanev in downtown Sofia. Kanev suffered minor injuries. Many human rights organizations and individuals stated the incident was the consequence of an atmosphere that permitted widespread hate speech and was conducive to violent acts and called on authorities to identify and punish the perpetrators as soon as possible. As of November, an investigation was underway.
A series of antimigrant protests took place in October and November throughout the country. On October 7, more than 300 persons participated in a protest march in Sofia against “illegal migrants.” The protestors shouted “Die, refugees,” “Bulgaria, wake up,” and “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” and demanded that the government resign. Some of the participants told the media that asylum seekers loitering around the reception centers would throw stones at passing cars, were a threat to Bulgarian women and children, and that they feared that Sofia could turn into a “Baghdad in the Balkans.” On October 9, reacting to rumors that the government intended to build a refugee camp in Samokov, local residents protested on the central square expressing “concern for their security and their living.”