12 December 2006

The Supreme Administrative Court in Bulgaria Sentenced an NGO to pay 3000 BGN in an Access to Information Case


With its decision as of December 12, 2006 the Supreme Administrative Court in Bulgaria sentenced the Center for NGOs in the town of Razgrad to pay the expenses of 3000 BGN (1500 Euro) with regards to an access to information court case.


The proceedings were initiated in 2005 after the complaint of the NGO against the silent refusal of the mayor of the town to provide information about the amount of the salaries of the members of the local parliament (municipality council). The two court instances (Razgrad Regional Court, and the Supreme Administrative Court) upheld the denial.


On February 5, 2007, the NGO received a subpoena to pay the amount of 3000 BGN. This amount is to cover the expenses for the defence of the members of the local parliament, who did not want to make public the information about the salaries they had received from the municipal budget.


According to the case files, the members of the local parliament had authorized one of them - an attorney, to defend them during the proceedings. The lawyer claimed to have charged each of the other members of parliament with 100 BGN at each of the court instances. However, the defender is himself a party at the current proceedings and the defence he had provided was to protect his personal interest.


In an open letter sent to media and other NGOs in Bulgaria, Access to Information Programme (AIP) expresses its concern about the decision of the court and the economic pressure exercised by government officials on the citizens, who exercise their right of access to information.


The reluctance of public officials to be accountable to the society and the manner to hide information about the spending of public money is not intrinsic to an European democracy.


This precedent stands next to the cases of Bulgarian journalists who have been sentenced to pay fines and damages for daring to release information about wrongdoings or possible corruption in the government.


AIP calls upon the court to reconsider and minimize the amount of the assigned costs since it is entitled to do that at its own initiative or at the demand of one of the parties.


AIP calls upon the members of parliament in Razgrad to give up their shameful claim to receive money from a civil organization, which exercised in public interest the right of access to information.


We call upon all public officials to share the understanding compliant with international standards that spending of public money for public services should be transparent and accountable.

Access to Information Programme