At the beginning of the year, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) asked the prosecutor general of Bulgaria, Sotir Tsatsarov, and the Sofia district prosecutor, Hristo Dinev, to provide information under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA).
The requested data concerns the deaths in March and April 2015 of persons allegedly having been beaten by law enforcement officers as well as the case of a person who died in the hall of Sofia District Court in November after being in police custody. BHC requested the information in order to learn whether the cases are under investigation.
Both the Sofia District Prosecutor's Office (SDP) and the Supreme Cassation Prosecutor's Office (SCP) refused to provide the requested information, even though it meets the definition of "public information" within the meaning of APIA – it is part of the public life in Bulgaria and enables citizens to draw conclusions about the institutions.
The refusals to provide the requested information are unjustified and contrary to law because the prosecution didn’t give any valid reasons for its decisions.
In both cases, BHC wanted information not about the materials related to the pre-trial proceedings, as stated in the refusals of SDP and SCP, but about whether such proceedings had begun. Last year, BHC received from the prosecution similar information from identical questions, and the prosecution itself regularly published such data on its website and distributed press releases on selected cases.
"The thing that is so alarming about the refusals of SDP and SCP is that they come immediately after the APIA amendments of January 2016, which notably aim to make the activities of state bodies and institutions more transparent and easily accessible to citizens. These refusals also come right after they stopped publishing annual reports on their activities on their websites. So now citizens have no free access to them," said BHC lawyer Adela Kachaunova, who represents the organization on both complaints.
"This leads to the suspicion of systematic concealment of information from the public, which is contrary to the law," she added. It is crucial for the society to know what actions have been taken by the prosecution to clarify the reasons for these deaths.
The position of the organization is that this type of information cannot remain hidden from the public, as it is an essential part of the prosecution’s activities. For years, BHC has monitored the excessive use of force by the police, as this is a systemic problem in Bulgaria, for which the state has been repeatedly condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.
The activities of all state bodies, including the prosecution, must be characterized by transparency and openness, because this activity is carried out precisely in the interests of citizens and society as a whole.