BULGARIA: Report on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

(European Center for Not-for-Profit Law) The right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Bulgaria is regulated at a constitutional and legislative level in the Bulgarian legal framework – in the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and in the Assemblies, Rallies and Marches Act (ARMA). Most Bulgarian municipalities have further developed secondary legislation, most often in the form of municipal public order ordinances.

In view of the legislative norms and implementation practices, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Bulgaria has been regulated in accordance with the international standards set out in numerous international documents. If there have been any “deviations”, the reasons are due mostly to the different practices of implementation of the procedure at the local level, where there are no express regulations, and in most cases through administrative duties and the imposition of penalties for non-compliance with them we can observe a transition from a “notification” to an “authorization based” regime for organizing the event. This shortcoming allows the introduction of subjective and discretionary practices in the provision of the necessary assistance by the legally obligated state authorities (the local authority and the police).

As at the autumn of 2018 we can say that protests in Bulgaria have become commonplace. At least one protest is covered on a daily basis in news reports – with demands for better social policy, the resignation of a minister, rehabilitation of the urban environment, mountain protection, stopping the construction of specific buildings, etc. Counter-protests are also a concomitant event,
which is practically even naturally expected. Despite the lack of official statistics, we can say that in Bulgaria, it is evident in recent years that “protesting” is a common way of expressing a civil position. Administrative obstacles are relatively few and fragmented in practice, so we cannot conclude that this right is not exercised freely and democratically. Although, not all municipal public order ordinances provide a clear and specific algorithm of all the necessary actions that the citizens should take to organize a meeting, rally or march, municipal administrative staff and police provide the necessary assistance to citizens to exercise their right to right to freedom of peaceful assembly. At present, objective and concrete threats to the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly cannot be identified.

The present report reviews the legal, political and social environment in which the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Bulgaria was exercised between 2017 and 2018. Our observations and findings from this period lead to the conclusion that in Bulgaria there are no serious threats, restrictions, neither obstacles to the exercise of this right by the Bulgarian citizens.

Read the report