Court appeals




Access to public information kept at the archives of the Ministry of Interior

Hristo Hristov vs. the Ministry of Interior

1st Instance Court – Supreme Administrative Court, 5th Division, Case No. 1524/2003
2nd Instance Court – Supreme Administrative Court, Five-Member Panel, Case No. 8355/2003

Hristo Hristov, a journalist from Dnevnik daily newspaper, has made a several years’ research of different archives in Bulgaria with the aim to collect documents that would reveal the true circumstances related to the murder of the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov. The latter was assassinated in London, September 1978.

In regards to his investigation, Mr. Hristov filed a request to the Minister of Interior for access to public information kept at the archives of the Ministry of Interior (MoI). Mr. Hristov wanted to study the letter files (letter files are files of documents produced by the former State Security Services regarding the structure, staff, and the activities of different organizations and institutions) of Radio BBC, Radio Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe over the period from 1970 to 1978, when the Bulgarian writer Georgi Markov worked for the three western radio stations.

The minister refused to provide access to the demanded information, stating that an inquiry conducted had led to the conclusion that the MoI archives did not contain any information on the topic specified by the applicant.

Hristo Hristov filed a complaint against the refusal of the Interior Minister with the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC). He submitted his application with the argument that the minister had not complied with the Instructions on the Procedure for Providing Access to Information Contained in the MoI Archives, which the minister himself had signed in order to provide access to the archive for the purposes of studies and research. Therefore, the minister should have provided access to the letter files on the three radio stations, in order to enable the applicant to do his research and determine for himself whether or not they contained information of interest to him.

A three-member Panel of SAC rejected the complaint as unfounded. In its judgment, the court held that, in fact, the claimant wanted unlimited access to the MoI archives, while neither the Access to Public Information Act (APIA), nor the MoI Instructions provide for such unrestricted access.

Mr. Hristov appealed the decision of the three-member panel of SAC before a five-member panel. His arguments were that APIA explicitly provided for in-house review of information as a possible form of access.

The second instance court overturned the decision of the first-instance court, as well as the refusal of the minister. The SAC referred the case back to the interior minister, instructing him to provide the access to the MoI archives. In its Judgment, the Court ascertained that Mr. Hristov’s application was in compliance with the requirements under the APIA and the MoI Instructions, and comprised all of the requisites components, including a sufficient description of the requested information, the subject, and the purpose of the journalistic research.

In this regard, the court presumed that the evidence in the case had already proven that the requested information existed in the MoI archive and that the journalist had already read documents of the former State Security Services on the same topic.

The court judgment set a precedent by ordering an administrative body to provide access to the requested public information. As a result of the legal procedures, the journalist obtained access to the MoI archives and studied the documents of interest to him.

In the summer of 2005, a book by Hristo Hristov was published. “Kill the Tramp: Bulgarian and British State Policies Related to the Case of Georgi Markov.” National and international media alike discussed the high quality of the investigation.

English Version • Last Update: 22.03.2006 • © 1999 Copyright by Interia & AIP