(IPI/IFEX) - An International Press Institute delegation met in Sofia with
three members of parliament (MPs) from the ruling Union of Democratic Forces
Party (UDF) -- Dimitar Abajiev, Ivan Dimov and Sasho Stoyanov -- to call on
the Bulgarian authorities to revoke articles within the penal code that
punish journalists with imprisonment for articles that could be considered
libelous or defamatory.
**For background, see IFEX alerts of 17 July and 28 May 1998**
IPI Director Johann P. Fritz expressed regret that the Bulgarian
constitutional court ruled on, 15 July 1998, that Articles 146, 147 and 148
(see footnote) of the penal code do not contradict the constitution and
urged the UDF Party to re-address the issue in order to bring Bulgaria's
legislation in line with its international obligations.
IPI stressed the point that such articles belong in the civil code and that
criminalising journalistic offences has a chilling effect on the media and
so underlines democratic structures.
The IPI delegation was encouraged by the news that the entire penal code
would be re-appraised by parliament in the near future.
The MPs agreed that, at the very least, the threat of prison sanctions
should be lifted and that the state prosecutor should not be empowered to
open defamation lawsuits on behalf of public officials.
IPI sees these as encouraging concessions and is confident that enough
political support can be generated to repeal these repressive articles.
Article 146 provides for six months imprisonment for "insult." while Article
147 punishes libel with up to a one-year sentence. Article 148 permits the
state prosecutor to press charges on behalf of officials who feel they have
been defamed, and provides for punishment of up to three years imprisonment.