International Right to Know Day joint statement to governments against the limiting of the freedom of information during the Covid-19 pandemic

For the International Right to Know Day on September 28, Transparency International, together with Access Info Europe, Article 19 and the Center for Law and Democracy, prepared a joint population calling on governments around the world to ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not become a pretext for restricting the right of access to information.

The coronavirus crisis makes it clear that access to information is essential for:
- maintaining the confidence needed to deal successfully with the pandemic;
- preventing corruption in response to the crisis;
- forcing governments to read their actions;
- allows citizens to continue to participate in democratic processes.

We call for rules to restore access to information to pre-pandemic levels and even exceed them.

Statement on Draft Bill of Amendments to the Bulgarian Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act which amends the Access to Public Information Act

April 22, 2020 - the Access to Information Programme submitted a statement regarding the Draft Bill of Amendments to the Bulgarian Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act through which the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) is also being amended.

According to AIP's assessement, the proposed amendments are to the detriment of citizens' right to information and jeopardize the transparency of institutions.

32 civil society organizations, amongst which the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives, WWF-Bulgaria and many others, as wells as 154 citizens from all over Bulgaria declared their support for AIP's statement via an online petition that was open for signing between the 17th and the 22nd of April. As the campaign coincided with Bulgaria's official Easter holiday period, such a wide-reaching support is a clear indicator for the recognition of the importance of the APIA and of the preserving of democratic values in times of crisis.

AIP's statement came about after a group of MPs from the GERB ruling party introduced a problematic draft bill amending the Bulgarian Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act on March 5, 2020. The transitional and final provisions of the draft law propose amendments to the APIA. Through this proposal, a law governing a fundamental human right - such as the right to information - is considered being amended by a law that has nothing to do with access to information. In particular, the changes provide that each public body will be free to decide on the actual costs for the provision of information, while now there is a threshold set by the Minister of Finance in accordance with the law.

Open Letter from Bulgarian civil society organizations to European Commission representatives

In the last few years, Bulgaria has faced challenges regarding the civil society similar to those in some other countries of Central and Eastern Europe: smear campaigns against groups of CSOs, increasing anti-EU propaganda and actions stigmatizing human rights groups.

62 civil society organizations signed a letter to the European Commission representatives asking them to:

- Make a clear public statement on the importance of civil society;
- Urge the Bulgarian government to protect civic space and stand against hate campaigns questioning the need for civil society organizations;
- Meet with Bulgarian CSOs in order to discuss their concerns and support the organizations in reaffirming core EU values and principles.Please, read the letter here.