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Bulgarian Penal Code articles to be reviewed



(CPJ/IFEX) - CPJ supports the Bulgarian Helsinki Watch Committee and a
number of independent journalists' associations who have recently petitioned
the Bulgarian Parliament and the Constitutional Court to repeal articles in
the Bulgarian Penal Code punishing journalists with imprisonment for
criminal libel.




In mid June 1998, the Constitutional Court is scheduled to rule on the
constitutionality of articles 146, 147 and 148. Article 146 calls for a
six-month imprisonment penalty for insult, while Article 147 punishes libel
with up to a one year sentence. These statutes place the burden of proof on
accused journalists who have to provide evidence that their articles are
factually correct. Article 148 is particularly troubling because it empowers
state prosecutors, rather than the injured parties, to open lawsuits for
defamation on behalf of officials who claim their reputations have been
damaged. Moreover, journalists face up to three years imprisonment for
defaming public officials.

CPJ supports the recommendations of the Bulgarian Helsinki Watch, the
Svobodno
Slovo journalists' association and other local groups. These include the
abolishment of criminal provisions for libel on the basis that they are
unconstitutional and violate the UN Human Rights Accords and the European
Convention on Human Rights to which Bulgaria is a state party. Democratic
countries throughout the world denounced the jailing of journalists for
their written work and instead, have introduced civil remedies to deal with
libel.

Furthermore, Article 148 provides public officials with special protection,
and allows prosecutors to act on their behalf. This provision runs in
violation of Article 6 (2) of the Bulgarian Constitution, which states that
all citizens should be treated equally before the laws and guaranteed equal
protection from discrimination.

CPJ views this initiative as an important event for the future press freedom
in Bulgaria given the growing number of criminal libel lawsuits against
independent media outlets and journalists.

Recommended Action


Send appeals to authorities:
  • urging them to assume a leadership role in abolishing the statutes from
    the
    Penal Code which criminalize the libel prosecution of journalists in
    Bulgaria
  • noting that the European Court on Human Rights and other courts of West
    European democracies have prohibited the prosecution of journalists who
    criticize public officials and influential figures, which they view as an
    unjustifiable interference with freedom of
    expression




    Appeals To



    His Excellency Petar Stoyanov
    President of the Republic of Bulgaria
    Fax: +359 2 875 601/011 359 2 822 574







    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.



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