Attorney Alexander Kashumov is a prominent human rights activist, head of the legal team of the NGO Program Access to Information since 1997. He is a member of the Sofia Bar Association since 1999. Under his leadership, PAI has supported and led more than 220 cases under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA). His personal site can be found here. He commented especially for Bivol the new proposal of the Member of the Parliament, Yordan Tsonev, to incriminate public speaking about banks.
After recent days events, it became clear that the Central Bank (Bulgarian National Bank, BNB) has formulated a proposal to prosecute disclosure of information related to banks and financial institutions. The text has already been tabled in the Parliament on June 30, 2014, by the Deputy Chair of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS, the party representing mainly the ethnic Turkish minority in Bulgaria – editor’s note), Yordan Tsonev.
According to the proposed new amendment, disclosure of false or other information about banks and financial institutions will be subject to a penalty of imprisonment. This poses serious challenges to freedom of speech. Indeed, on one hand what happened in recent days has shown that it is necessary to have serious penalties in cases which can shake the financial and banking system and threaten the savings of the already impoverished Bulgarian citizens. There must be boundaries for those villains who want to destabilize the system. However, they may be insiders in the system, and then a similar text will protect them instead of protecting citizens and stability.
According to the proposal, article 252 will be created in the “Crimes against the Monetary and Credit System” chapter of the Penal Code, which states:
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Art. 252 a. (1) Whoever disseminates false or misleading information or other information about a bank or a financial institution, which may lead to spreading panic among the population, shall be punished by imprisonment from two to five years.
(2) When the activity, under paragraph 1, causes significant damage to another person or leads to substantial illegal income, the penalty is imprisonment of five to ten years and a fine of five thousand to ten thousand levs.
The text is imprecise and does not take into account basic standards of freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information. According to the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, citizens have the right to freely distribute information and ideas. This right applies not only to information and ideas that have favorable reception or are considered to be harmless, but to those that shock or disturb the State or any other part of the population, as postulate the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court of Republic of Bulgaria/Decision № 7 from June 4, 1996 in constitutional case № 1/1996/. According to the judges, the right to information is a principle, and its restriction is the exception and is subject to strict interpretation and application.
Indeed, there is some sense in efforts to prevent frivolous action, “which could lead to spreading panic among the population.”
It is unclear what behaviors can be described as panic
According to the first paragraph of the tabled text, in order to apply the sanctions, there is no need to have occurrence of consequences or damage. The question arises here whether persons, who have interest in their acts and omissions in relation to financial institutions and their system to not be discussed at all, could use such text to stifle legitimate criticism or prevent the dissemination of information that society has legitimate interest to know. And the very existence of such sanctions will lead to self-censorship among journalists and media.
The wording “or other information” is especially problematic as this would achieve a total ban on disclosing information related to banking in the country. As they would not know if they are endangered by imprisonment, journalists and insiders, who have learned about fraud or crime, will be silenced. And society will not be able to debate, in a number of cases, even real data on the state of the banks and the system.
The case from 2012, related to information about the so-called “bad apples” in the banking system, published by the site “Bivol”, as included in the secret cables from former US Ambassador to Bulgaria John Beyrle on the murder of banker Emil Kyulev, is a good example of how such penalizing decree can be applied. The cables were published by WikiLeaks. BNB then asked the site for an explanation and threatened it with a fine for publishing information related to banks. It is hardly necessary to clarify that the published information is contained in official documents and is of public interest.
In order to act reasonably, it is necessary that the proposal for such text in the Penal Code becomes subject to public debate, as indeed prescribes Article 26 – 28 of the Normative Instruments Act. The lack of such debates in many cases is a notorious fact, especially when politicians are trying to push through questionable, scandalous or lobbyist texts. At the moment, again, the only way to achieve balance between the right to information and the protection of the financial system is to improve the wording of the provision. Otherwise, fundamental rights of citizens and the quality of public debate, without which a society cannot be called democratic, will suffer.
*The title has been changed
COMMENT OF BIVOL
In the last days of the life of the current highly-discredited Parliament, the Deputy Chairman of DPS, Yordan Tsonev, tabled a proposal to amend the Penal Code of the Republic of Bulgaria. The proposal for legislative change calls for imprisoned of up to 5 years of anyone who dares to instigate confusion and fear among the population over the state of a bank in the country. If the damage is potentially significant, then the culprit will spent up to 10 years in prison and will have to pay huge fines. The proposal of the DPS MP was voted by his peers in the legal committee, who together with the centrist Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), passed it on first reading. Congratulations! This is the first dress rehearsal for the forthcoming joint actions of GERB and DPS in the future Parliament. The place of the outcast “centenarian” (the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP – editor’s note) is already taken by a young and ambitious political concubine, sitting in the lap of DPS.
No great wisdom and foresight are needed to make it clear even to the taxi driver in the forsaken town of Kaspichan that this is an unprecedented repressive law that suits better any classic dictatorship than a Member State of the EU. Bulgaria has consistently ranked last in freedom of speech on the Old Continent. This situation severely frustrates any meaningful international contacts and investment interests in the oligarchy-plutocracy regime established in the country. Consistently and gradually, such legislative initiative drives us only to the region of the Eurasian Union and creates strong analogies with the pro-Putin regimes of other countries in this geo-political orbit.
It is necessary to analyze the reasons that led to the unprecedented bank crisis in the country. It is the result of the corrosive political crisis, accompanied by a huge deficit of public trust in official institutions in the State and in the current political entities. The blame for this situation falls mainly on the represented in the current Parliament parties. The role of DPS and its fixture MP Deliyan Peevski in the genesis of the bank collapse is undeniable. It can be tracked in the flow of information for at least the last seven years The explosive plummeting of Bulgaria in the global rankings of media freedom coincides to the point with the imposition of the “media monopoly” by the so-called shady group “Vasilev (banker Tsvetan Vasilev of Corporate Commercial Bank, KTB – editor’s note) – Peevski – Krasteva” (mother of Delyan Peevski – editor’s note). Until recently, its main figures vehemently denied being involved with it, but now openly admit to it. Bivol has significant contributions to proving financial relationships in the buyoff of Bulgarian media by Delian Peevski’s family with KTB money. Lack of transparency of Bulgarian media, imposed precisely by the legendary tandem, however, provoked the strong negative reaction of the European Commission and motivated Commissioner Neelie Kroes to visit the country and publically call on then Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to discontinue the backstage dealings in the media sector. Borisov promised Kroes to do it, but, of course, failed to deliver. It was him running the country then, together with Vasilev and Peevski, not BSP leader, Sergei Stanishev. Their media praised him night and day and organized a powerful clapper propaganda of the unmatched rule of the Prime Minister Sun. Of course, after the change of the power guard, GERB turned from a target of praise into a target of bashing. Such unprincipled agility is a great example of the total collapse of morality in Bulgarian journalism, imposed by the style and mode of operation of the media empire built with the money of KTB. The series of hearings and discussions in the European Parliament on the censorship of free speech and manipulation in the media, the involvement of a privileged bank, where the State poured a major part of its financial resources, remained accessible only to the EU audience. The Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria did everything possible to conceal all these European initiatives and to keep Bulgaria as far away as possible from the truth. The baton was taken at full speed by Stanishev and the current government as “businessman” Peevski was suddenly deemed the only worthy, indispensable and qualified person in the State to take over the management of the mega services – the National Security Agency (DANS). The question WHO proposed Peevski was actually rhetorical because it was clear to all that the financial and economic grip of the country had not changed with the change of political power. In fact, the new ones are the same old ones, and Vasilev and Peevski remained everlasting and untouchable because they control both the new ones and the old ones. With their actions the institutions prove it daily. The lonely howl of a horned, cloven-hoofed animal (bivol in Bulgarian means buffalo – editor’s note) sounded like a doomed moan in the dry savannah of Bulgarian tragedy. All information about bad credit, draining funds through public procurement, dummy privatization etc. was concealed and systematically silenced. This was precisely the goal of the target purchase and overpowering of Bulgarian media. (A concrete example of how this happened with one of them is coming soon.)
Everything that happened in the aftermath is well-known and we do not need to retell it. We remind of just some of the cornerstones of the background to explain the miserable attempt of the main culprits for the current crisis with banks and public panic to apportion blame to somebody else. What is the purpose? Well, the purpose is double – first, to cover-up their own irresponsibility and political failure and second – to try to use the difficult situation to f… even more Bulgarian media; to silence any free and honest voice trying to open the eyes and minds of the Bulgarian herd about what the slaughter that its “shepherds in sheep’s clothing” are cooking for it. As the saying goes – “two buffalos with just one bullet”.
If the law “Tsonev” enters into force, immediately after it, the first ones that must prepare their backpacks for the jailhouse are the main instigators of the phobia and the collapse of the bank stability, and they belong to his own caucus in the Parliament. However, there is no one to press charges against them, because prominent prosecutors will also need to prepare for the jail cell – together with the leaders of political parties, with media bosses and perhaps some BNB employees. BNB launched such crisis PR campaign to calm down the public and to appease distrust that their reaction reminds of a very curious but true story: A group of mountaineers were walking on nature trails. While moving along a grove, they suddenly heard a cry: “Do not look this way, do not look this way!” Naturally all turned right in the direction of the cry, and saw in the shadow of the grove’s trees the forest ranger squatting with pants down.
Independent analysts can assess the sequence of events and draw conclusions about how exactly and with what means the ghost was released from the bottle. We can definitely prove that it did not happen without the involvement of State institutions themselves. The institutions of that same State, which now uses its own failure as an alibi in order to repress in an even more unacceptable way media and its citizens; to introduce totalitarian censorship laws and non-transparency; to keep the public in the dark, as a herd slated for slaughtering, not as a community of free individuals with equal rights. And all this is done because of their own crimes, theft, and misuse of public wealth and power.
By the way, the so-concerned about the banks’ untouchability by public awareness, Yordan Tsonev, never tabled amendments to the Penal Code in its economic crimes chapter. There, texts date from 1968 and no one has ever touched them until now. NO ONE! Clauses, designed to meet the needs of the Socialist regime’s property, cannot protect current State interests and the democratic social order. These texts, however, perfectly serve the interests of people like Tsonev in illegally appropriating hundreds of decares of land along the natural park Strandza on the Black Sea coast. Bivol investigated these dealings and wrote about them as well, but our voice is fading in this desert Bulgaria has turned into. It is, however, echoing loudly across the free areas of Europe and the world.
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