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The Supreme Court of Cassation in Bulgaria returned “Islamic case” back to square one

Petar Gramatikov
Petar Gramatikovhttps://www.europeantimes.news
Dr. Petar Gramatikov is the Editor in Chief and Director of The European Times. He is a member of the Union of Bulgarian Reporters. Dr. Gramatikov has more than 20 years of Academic experience in different institutions for higher education in Bulgaria. He also examined lectures, related to theoretical problems involved in the application of international law in religious law where a special focus has been given to the legal framework of New Religious Movements, freedom of religion and self-determination, and State-Church relations for plural-ethnic states. In addition to his professional and academic experience, Dr. Gramatikov has more than 10 years Media experience where he hold a positions as Editor of a tourism quarterly periodical “Club Orpheus” magazine – “ORPHEUS CLUB Wellness” PLC, Plovdiv; Consultant and author of religious lectures for the specialized rubric for deaf people at the Bulgarian National Television and has been Accredited as a journalist from “Help the Needy” Public Newspaper at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

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After more than 6 years of consideration in three instances, the Islamic case is returned in April to the District Court in Pazardzhik and starts from the very beginning – with a pretrial hearing. This is a decision of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC), which is not subject to appeal and protest.

The proceedings in the Supreme Court of Cassation were instituted on complaints of 12 of the defendants and their defenders. They are challenging the decision of the magistrates of Pazardzhik, who found guilty all 14 accused of preaching anti-democratic ideology and religious hatred in sermons and social networks with mujahideen gestures, as well as distributing the book “Apostasy”. The alleged spiritual leader, Ahmed Musa, and some of his associates were also convicted of promoting war through photos or videos of the Islamic State flag, as well as providing T-shirts, headbands, hats and flags with the terrorist’s logo. Islamic State organization.

We remind you that the district magistrates sentenced Musa to 8 and a half years in prison and a fine of BGN 9,500. Four of the group were sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison and fined BGN 7,000. Another eight received 2 years in prison each, six of them – and fines of BGN 6,000 (ab. 1500 EUR). A suspended sentence of 2 and a half years on a 4-year probation period was given only to the only woman in the group – student Alexandrina Angelova. This decision was fully confirmed by the Plovdiv Court of Appeal in February last year.

However, their lawyers are challenging many of the arguments for this decision. The complaints say there is no evidence of religious hatred, that the mujahideen gesture with a raised index finger means monotheism, it is not specified where the gesture was made and against which groups of people it is directed to incite hatred. The items with the Islamic State logo were bought from Turkey for a wedding, for commercial purposes, and not to promote war. Criticism was also leveled at a disregarded request to drop the case and return it to a previous phase due to the dismissal of supervising prosecutor Nedyalka Popova, who drafted the indictment (she was taken away in March 2018, but defenders insist her bias this should have happened much earlier). The lawyers want their clients to be acquitted or their sentences reduced.

The cassation appeals contain objections for significant violations of the procedural rules, which led to restriction of the rights of the defendants. Despite the claims of the referring parties for violation of substantive law and for unfairness of the imposed penalties, the allegations of substantial procedural violations should be discussed in the first place, as such a finding would invalidate the ruling on the other arguments put forward by the parties.

In summary, the objections of the cassators can be defined as aimed at omissions in the analytical work of the appellate court in assessing the evidence sources or rather lack thereof, as the impugned decision completely repeated the reasons for the first instance verdict, lack of response to defense of objections, crediting conclusions of expertise prepared by experts who do not have the appropriate qualifications and are not included in the lists of experts, representation of one of the defendants by a lawyer who is related to a person who performed procedural – investigative actions on the case, as well as the bias of the prosecutor supervising the pre-trial proceedings and preparing the indictment under consideration – it is said in the decision of the Supreme Court of Cassation, which returns the case for a new hearing in the Pazardzhik District Court.

Apart from Musa, the accused in the case are Angel Simov, Stefan Alexandrov (Suleiman), Svetoslav Manchev (Zekeria), Ercan Smail, Stefan Dimitrov (Tafik), Alexandrina Angelova (Melekshen), Yosif Minchev (Yusnyu), Rangel Iliev (Little Ramzi), Alexander Ivanov (Bango), Orhan Barzak (Mazgala), Rayko Kartalov (Remzi), Nenko Shterev and Veselin Stefanov (Vaidin).

However, the three-member panel of the Supreme Court of Cassation accepted the appeals of Musa and the others convicted as admissible and well-founded in relation to some of the arguments presented. In their reasons, the Supreme Judges wrote that the appellate court had announced that it had independently established a factual situation, which was not in fact objectified, because in describing the facts the court had quoted and retold the testimony of witnesses in the case, the investigative actions and conclusions expertise, without based on them to give a description of the factual situation adopted by him. This leads to a lack of motivation in the issued secondary act.

Diligent enumeration of the information through its retelling cannot replace the facts related to the actions of the defendants and the specification of the actions for which they were found guilty. Such clarity is not present in the reasons for the first instance act.

 According to the panel of judges of the Supreme Court of Cassation, the defense’s reproaches to the prosecutor and the court for ambiguity are justified, both for the time parameters of preaching hatred on religious grounds and for the manner of its preaching. Declarative statements that the defendants through sermons created religious intolerance towards non-Salafists, without indicating the specific expressions or content of these sermons, cannot be convincing evidence.

The Supreme Court judges are adamant that in practice the act of the district court suffers from a lack of reasons. Violations of the procedural rules were also found, so in this case the case should be returned for a new hearing to the District Court – Pazardzhik.

The first hearing of the trial was more than 6 years ago – in February 2016.

The 14 accused were arrested during a large-scale operation of the special services on November 25, 2014 in Pazardzhik, Plovdiv and Asenovgrad.

Photo: BGNES archive

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