In 1998, after long-standing persecution against members of the church of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and three years of correspondence with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Bulgaria allowed this denomination, which is nontraditional for the country, to be registered in court. This happened under the pressure of the European Court, since the country would have been sued for violation of the right to freedom of religious expression. In addition to their reluctance to enter the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the register, state officials had persecuted members of this denomination for the fact that they refused to serve in the army or to receive blood transfusions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses file complaint with Anti-Discrimination Commission Rositsa STOYKOVA
even years later, Bulgaria has an Alternative to Military Service Act and the denomination has been officially registered. So it is strange that the media and certain ·public figures” continue to persecute the Jehovah’s Witnesses with the same hostility as before, and to denounce them as dangerous to society - and above all, to our children. Years ago, the heartland of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses was the town of Assenovgrad, where the ·cult” was accused of having bewitched a young girl, causing her to take her own life. Today, hatred towards them has a new address: Burgas, where the media have been persecuting followers of the nontraditional faith with particular ferocity, and ·the public” has expressed its disapproval by organizing protests (see Obektiv No. 125, pp. 12-13). However, in mid-October, Veliko Turnovo was also added to the map of hatred towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ·bomb” of discontent was ignited by a press conference held by the Sts. Cyril and Methodius University and the water and sewage company in the city regarding the internship of Kristina Engel, a German student from the Dresden Technical University, which she was supposed to begin at the water company. At the end of her speech thanking the student organization AISEC and the water company for the job opportunity they had provided for her, Kristina Engel also shared her joy over the fact that she had met some followers of her own denomination in the city. The journalists present, as well as the water company boss Evgeni Nikolov, re-
acted immediately. The media decried the ·cult member” for attempting to start work at the water company, claiming that her faith was illegal as it had not been registered at the district court or anywhere else in Europe (Yantra Today newspaper, 13 October 2005). The water boss, Evgeni Nikolov, announced that he ·was not in the habit of funding cults” and on the next day sent a press release to the media in which he announced that he would be reexamining Kristina Engel’s candidacy for work at the company, since during the press conference ·not her professional qualifications, but her religious convictions, had taken center stage.” The press release went on to say, ·Yovkovtsi Water and Sewage Ltd. does not discriminate against job candidates on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, heritage or religion (per Art. 6 of the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria). Company policy requires that employees hold their own professional qualifications and skills above all, and that they are kept separate from their own personal, including religious, preferences. In her first public statement, the candidate proposed as a laboratory intern at Yovkovtsi W&S emphasized her religious beliefs, and the company’s management was left with the impression that they have priority over her professional duties, which had been previously agreed upon with her future employer.” Because of this ·impression” on the part of the management, Kristina Engel did not begin her internship, despite the agreement Evgeni Nikolov had made with
the student organization and despite the official job offer sent to the Bulgarian Embassy in Germany along with a visa request. Several days later, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee sent a letter to Mr. Nikolov, in which it insisted that Kristina Engel be allowed to begin her internship at the company, since refusal would be a grave violation of the Anti-Discrimination Act (ADA). Between the likelihood of being sued for violation of the law and that of being decried in the media, the water boss chose the lesser evil. Surprisingly, he chose not to uphold the law by taking into account Kristina Engel’s professional qualifications, but to focus entirely on her religious beliefs. He chose to deprive her of the opportunity for professional development, in order to penalize her for her faith. And not least of all, in order to maintain good relations with the media, rather than taking such an unpopular step as obeying the law, which is to a large number of Bulgarians like a mountain peak up in the clouds: far-off and unreachable. More than 20 court decisions have already been pronounced on the basis of this foggy law, which is aimed at ensuring equality before the law, equality of treatment and effective protection against discrimination for all. A large part of the decisions found a violation of the right to equal treatment, and are truly progressive in their assessment of the circumstances. However, instead of waiting for a long court procedure, as is the established practice under the ADA, Kristina Engel chose an alternative way to seek justice, also provided for by the ADA. On 2 November 2005 she filed a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commission claiming ·direct discrimination in exercising the right
to labour, on the basis of religion, in the sense of ADA Art. 4, paras. 1 and 2 and ADA Art. 12, para. 4,” and demanding that the commission impose coercive administrative action and financial penalties against Emil Nikolov, president of the Veliko Turnovo water company, and the corporate entity Yokovtsi W&S Ltd. This means that the commission could ·issue mandatory instructions to the employers and officials that they eliminate/ correct the violation of Bulgarian anti-discrimination legislation.” That is, it could force the water company to reinstate Kristina Engel’s internship. The legally stipulated period for the commission’s decision is up to one month. In mid-January 2006 such a decision had still not been pronounced. On 10 November 2005 the U.S. State Department published its annual report on freedom of religion in 197 countries during 2005. In the section on Bulgaria, it states that the authorities have created obstacles for certain nontraditional religious groups. The document notes that relations between the main religious denominations are good, but that there have been incidences of discrimination and societal intolerance towards nontraditional religious movements. Several of these have been the object of antipathy on the part of regional authorities, and especially the media, despite their having been registered in the courts. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and several evangelistic and protestant churches are named as examples. The report also criticizes the law on foreigners, which does not provide clearly for the issuance and renewal of visas for missionary and religious workers; this has a direct effect on the missionaries of faiths that are not traditional for this country. Adherents of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are again named as examples.
Published on Mar 7, 2011
In 1998, after long-standing persecution against members of the church Jehovah's Witnesses and three years of correspondence with the Europe...