In September of 2023 we filed a Brief with the National Assembly of Bulgaria denouncing the propsed Declrarion against Hate Speech in Political Life. The Declaration was propsed by the leaders of the main political parties in the parliament. Seeing this document as a precursor to a more sinister attack on freedom of speech, we at Freedom for All, and 24 other Christian religious denominations and various organizations, filed the Brief asking the members of parilament to not vote the Declaration into and offically adopted document. (Here we present the text, machine translated, until proper translation becomes available.)

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Opinion to the National Assembly against a draft declaration against "hate language"

In defense of freedom of speech
 

On September 21, 2023, "Freedom for Everyone" submitted an opinion against the project submitted by several heads of parliamentary parties . Here we provide the full text of the opinion, drafted in defense of the basic constitutional right to freedom of speech and information, supported by over twenty organizations, faiths and individuals.


POSITION

FREEDOM FOR EVERYONE

September 21, 2023

TO: The Speaker of the National Assembly,
Committee on Foreign Policy,
Committee on Human Rights, Religions and Complaints of Citizens
Legal Committee
THE PEOPLE'S REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 49TH NA,
Political Parties

COPY TO: Supreme Bar Council, religious denominations, civil organizations and media

Regarding: The project for a declaration of the National Assembly
against the language of hatred in Bulgarian politics
in the sense of Art. 85, para. 1 of the Constitution
entry No. 49-354-03-6 of 29.07.2023
with importers: D. Lorer, K. Petkov, Atty. Atanasov, B. Borisov, D. Peevski and M. Karadai

Freedom is saying things that others don't want to hear.  George Orwell

Freedom of speech for us is to preach the truth about Christ, even when society claims it is against the law.  John MacArthur

 

Dear People's Representatives,

"Freedom for Everyone" is an organization with many years of experience in monitoring and protecting the rights and freedoms of people in Bulgarian society and on the international scene.

We note with concern the intention of the National Assembly to adopt a "declaration against the language of hate in Bulgarian politics" (entry no. 49-354-03-6 of 29.07.2023, the "declaration"). Such a declaration is totally unacceptable for a free and democratic society. "Hate speech" is an ideological and problematic category that is easily abused. The consequences of such arbitrariness are in violation of the prohibition to restrict freedom of speech and expression in the conditions of democracy and protection of human rights.

First of all, there is no legal definition of "hate speech" , which allows for speculation and the taking away of the legitimate right to freedom of expression under the pretext that it constitutes "hate speech". None of the major international human rights treaties include a definition of "hate speech," despite the push for an increasingly universal use of the term. The category of "hate speech" is also not clearly defined by the European Court of Human Rights or any other international court.

Secondly, according to the Bulgarian Constitution, the freedom of expression of opinion , of collecting and disseminating information are among the fundamental rights guaranteeing the rights of the individual and the functioning of the democratic society (See Art. 38-41). Almost identical is the provision in the European Convention on Human Rights, Art. 10. Insofar as the draft declaration refers to problems in the speech of politicians, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression for the people's representatives as well, cf. Art. 69: "People's representatives do not bear criminal responsibility for the opinions they express and for their votes in the National Assembly".

The practice of the European Court of Human Rights firmly takes the position that protected speech is not only that which is acceptable to all or to specific individuals and sections of society. On the contrary, the point is that free speech is even what is considered "offensive" by the subjective standards of "hate speech":

The Court's supervisory functions oblige it to pay the greatest attention to the principles characterizing a "democratic society". Freedom of speech constitutes one of the most important foundations of such a society, one of the main conditions for its progress and for the development of each person (…) it is applicable not only to "information" or "ideas" that are favorably received or considered harmless, or treated with indifference, but also those which offend, shock or embarrass the state or any section of the population. Such are the requirements for that pluralism, tolerance and breadth of thinking, without which there is no "democratic society". [1]

The adopted position of the Bulgarian courts and judicial practice is similar, according to which public figures, due to their impact on public and political life, enjoy an understated protection of their reputation. That is, individuals who influence public processes and interests can be criticized and their lives and activities can be subject to public attention and comment.

According to the standards imposed by the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, public figures should enjoy less protection of their reputation. This principle is reflected in the right to express a freer opinion towards such persons, compared to the permissible limits established for other members of society. Restrictions on freedom of speech must be interpreted narrowly and be necessary in a democratic society. [2]

In contrast, the draft declaration we are commenting on, in effect, aims to create a form of "immunity" from public discussion and criticism of individuals or whole groups of society.

Third, restrictions on freedom of expression are strictly limited (Art. 10, para. 2 ECHR; Art. 39, para. 2 Constitution). Authoritative international human rights organizations note that restrictions on freedom of speech should be applied only when absolutely necessary, in strict compliance with the rules introducing comprehensiveness of these restrictions, and not for expediency - when a given political group or layer does not like the ideas and the criticisms of his opponents.

Freedom of expression can legally be restricted in a limited number of specific situations that involve incitement to unlawful physical violence. But such restrictions must remain an exception that is narrowly construed, well defined and proportionate. [3]

In this regard, both the laws against "hate speech" and the declarations of the legislature supporting the implementation of measures against "hate speech" are vague, subjectively defined and open to arbitrariness and do not meet the strict standards of limiting the expression. In addition, such a restriction cannot be adopted on the basis of unverifiable claims that an opinion or speech "harms" society or individuals.

Fourthly , as a remnant of the time of the infamous totalitarian regime, unfortunately, Bulgaria has long had a law against "hate speech". This is the extremely problematic text of Art. 162, para. 1 of the Criminal Code , according to which it is forbidden to express opinions about persons specially protected by the legislator. Paragraph 2 of the same article of the Criminal Code criminalizes violence against protected groups. Thus, combined with a declaration of the parliament that vaguely speaks of "verbal violence", we see a legislative upsurge to limit the freedom of the individual, its expression and free thought. This is a return to the tyrannical model of government familiar to middle-aged Bulgarians.

Fifth, the text of the declaration is ambiguous, but also unequivocally aggressive against free speech . The declaration's preamble mentions the right to free speech in passing, rightly asserting that "the opposition of differing opinions is the very essence of democracy." Understandably, the petitioners call for tolerance in relations within political life. At the same time, many of the other appeals contained in the document go beyond what is permissible in a democratic society in which freedom of expression is a necessary condition for its existence.

Here we point out just some of the problematic texts in the draft declaration:

  • It is inadmissible from the rostrum of the National Assembly for the proponents of the declaration to call, in practice, for the creation of a police whistle-blower apparatus at the Ministry of the Interior, which would monitor for different and uncomfortable opinions . To the extent that the authors of the declaration consider that "hate speech" is also a "hate crime" or leads to one, their request to create a "platform open to citizens" in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior to report "suspected hate crimes ', is actually encouraging whistleblowing against individuals who do not fall into the category of those who agree with the ideological platform of the 'doubt' reporter.
  • The use of the term "verbal abuse" is unsustainable in everyday life and in law. Violence in law can only be physical, unless the legislator decides, in violation of the Constitution, to punish for expressed opinions. Even direct calls for immediate violence are not violence itself, but only a call. In precisely defined cases, only this type of expression is subject to restriction, and that by applying strictly enumerated tests for the necessity of such restriction in a democratic society. For the authors of the declaration, such restraints in favor of the protection of a basic constitutional freedom - that of speech - are absent.
  • The declaration itself illustrates the problem of the lack of a definition of "hate speech", while attempting to provide a definition, stating that hate speech is "any public utterance inciting violence". Bearing in mind that in the same declaration the authors nonsensically talk about "verbal violence", it becomes clear how stretchable are the categories under which the concept will be classified. Any public statement can become a reason for the persecution of dissenters and dissenters for political, religious, worldview and other ideological reasons.

In addition, the draft declaration is committed to "the fight against homophobia" and other "phobias". The category "homophobia", for example, not only lacks legal significance and definition, but even the popular use of this term is a matter of interpretation and worldviews. The approach of framing ideologically different opinions as "phobias" is eloquent enough. It points to the desire of the importers to control the freedom of thought, the formation of opinions and beliefs and their expression.

The recently heated public debate about human sexuality and its transformation into a subject of public law is evidence of the tendencies to restrict freedom of thought, belief and religion in favor of "sexual rights". Besides a challenge to public morality and a threat to the innocence of children, [4] this trend is opposed to Christian doctrine and tradition, and its public expression undermines freedom of religion and of other religions. Not long ago, the National Assembly introduced the controversial and vaguely defined concept of "sexual orientation" as a protected category in the Criminal Code. [5] This is another example of the stretchability of the "hate speech" criteria and their narrow ideological interpretation.

Sixth. Radical ideological propaganda groups, including those who do not know the Bulgarian reality and history , use the political and legal levers created supposedly to "restrict hate speech" to sow manipulations and propaganda, defaming established individuals and organizations that are ideologically different or disagree with their ideological and social dogma. Such agitational formations and their misleading reports and publications are an immediate danger to fundamental rights guaranteed by the Bulgarian Constitution and the European Convention, and are a threat to the democratic exercise of these rights under the jurisdiction of the Bulgarian state. [6] Hate mongering under the guise of "hate speech" protection is the natural bitter product of a poorly chosen approach to freedom of speech and expression as a core value of democracy.

Conclusion

In view of the above, we believe that such a declaration against "hate speech" poses a danger not only to the free debate in the parliament (see Article 69 of the CRC). It would be a pledge to impose censorship on the expression of free opinion on important social, political, religious and moral problems in society as a whole. This planned declaration is symptomatic of the unfolding of a wider attack on freedom of conscience, speech and religion. The politicization of freedom of expression and the persecution of expressed beliefs further increase societal tensions and pit societal groups against each other.

Until recently, Bulgaria was under a political regime in which it was forbidden to express an opinion and a worldview other than the officially approved one. In a similar way, the project in question for a "declaration against the language of hate in Bulgarian politics" is an expression of personal and political insensitivity and insufficient respect for the legal guarantees of freedom of expression in a modern democratic society.

We present this opinion with the confidence that common sense will prevail and the quoted declaration will not be accepted by the people's representatives . Freedom of speech is one of the basic human freedoms, without which a democratic society is doomed to collapse and return to totalitarianism. The task of the people's representatives is to guard and protect this newly acquired and most valuable freedom, not to limit and delete it.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Adv. Dr. Viktor Kostov
"Freedom for Everyone"
www.svobodazavseki.com

 

This opinion is endorsed by the following organizations and individuals, listed in alphabetical order:

Apostolic Church, Angel Peltekov, Plovdiv
Bulgarian Protestant Church "New Life", Timothy Autry, Svishtov
Bulgarian Christian Baptist Church, Ivan Valkov, Sofia
Movement "Living Faith", Miroslav Gutsalo, Varna
National Alliance "United Churches of God", Anatoly Elenkov, Sofia
National Christian Center, Svetoslav Petrov, Plovdiv
Community of Evangelical Churches of Faith, Ivan Nestorov, Plovdiv
Association "Bulgarian Parental Central Committee", Lyudmila Dukova, Sofia
Association "Bulgarian Center for Protection and Development", Alexander Dimitrov, Sofia
Association "Unity for the Family and the children", Daniela Nikolova, Varna
Association "ROD International", Adv. Vladimir Sheitanov, David Alexandrov, Sofia
Theocracy Association, Georgi Pavlov, Asenovgrad
Union of the Disabled and War Victims, Eng. Petar Velchev, Sofia
Restore Life Foundation, Daniela Ilieva, Ruse
Light of the Balkans Foundation, Ivan Valkov, Sofia
Foundation "Center for Change", Tsvetan Tsanev, Gorna Oryahovitsa
Christian Missionary Center - Vidin, Yavor Kostov, Vidin
Christian Society for Reformation, Ilia Iliev, Ruse
Christian Church "DAV Bulgaria", Danail Tanev, Sliven
HC "Royal Chaplaincy", Stanimir Todorov, Byala, region Ruse
Christian Reform Party, Atanas Terziyski, Plovdiv
Dr. Atanas Terziyski, Plovdiv "Paisii Hilendarski" University
Prof. Dr. Valentin Kojuharov, "Freedom for Everyone"
Docent Nikolay Kochev, "Paisii Hilendarski" University of Plovdiv