The Bulgarian justice minister has been called on to repudiate a priest’s call for physical violence against Pride marchers in the country’s capital city.
The Human Rights Watch group has written to Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva expressing concern over the unchecked remarks made by Father Evgeni Yanakiev of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, to which most Bulgarians belong.
Earlier this month, the Bulgarian Standard reported him saying: “Our whole society must in every possible way oppose the gay parade that is being planned. For this reason today I appeal to all those who consider themselves Christians and Bulgarians. Throwing stones at gays is an appropriate way.”
Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch said: “The call to stone gay people is a heinous threat to the security of peaceful people who want to use their freedom of assembly.
“It is incitement to hatred and violence and should be condemned by the justice minister in the clearest terms and in the most public way possible.”
In 2008, Bulgaria’s first LGBT Pride was marred by violence. In 2011, volunteers from the Sofia Pride Parade were physically attacked. Police investigations have not made any progress, Human Rights Watch said.
Pride organisers had called on the Church to react to Father Yanakiev’s comments. The Holy Synod issued a statement in response saying “homosexuality is an unnatural passion that undoubtedly harms the personality, the family and the society.”
A gay pride event was “immoral” in its view and would constitute a “harmful demonstration that violates the rights of Orthodox Christians”.
Mr Dittrich continued: “The response of the Holy Synod effectively leaves LGBT people who will participate in the LGBT pride parade in Sofia out in the cold.
“This makes it all the more imperative for state authorities to support unequivocally the right of the LGBT community to freely and safely exercise their rights to assembly and expression.”
Human Rights Watch reminded the Bulgarian government of its responsibility as a member of the Council of Europe to protect LGBT people from violence and hate speech that might lead to violence.
A Council recommendation says member states should “take appropriate measures to combat all forms of expression [...] likely to produce the effect of inciting, spreading or promoting hatred or other forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Such ‘hate speech’ should be prohibited and publicly disavowed whenever it occurs.”
Human Rights Watch said it believed there was “no doubt” Father Yanakiev’s call for stoning LGBT people constituted hate speech.
The group also drew attention to European and Bulgarian domestic laws prohibiting anti-gay discrimination and called for the government to examine whether the priest could be prosecuted.
Andre Banks, executive director of global LGBT rights movement AllOut.org said: “Stoning, fire bombs, public beatings – the story of Pride in Sofia, Bulgaria sounds like it’s from the middle ages not the 21st century.
He added that the city’s mayor Yordanka Fandakova has “a responsibility to protect the Pride participants when there is real danger that extremists will exact horrific violence on her citizens, simply because the want to live openly and be embraced for who they are. Giving an official permit to violent, anti-gay extremists on the same morning as Pride is a recipe for disaster.”
The fifth annual Sofia Pride parade is due to take place on 30 June.