The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) on the incident involving a boy with special educational needs: a severe offense category should be introduced in the Penal Code for actions based on disability.

In connection with the incident at a shopping mall in Plovdiv, documented with widely spread video on social media, showing a young man being led on a leash and forced to follow commands as if he were a dog, and it is alleged that he was involved in these actions against his will and has special educational needs, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) makes the following statement:

According to media reports, the district prosecutor's office in Plovdiv has taken action on its own initiative and is working on the case, examining the circumstances surrounding it, and particularly whether there is a criminal offense under the Penal Code – all of which are yet to be clarified.

As a fundamental principle, however, it should be noted that criminal acts based on disability or those exploiting the victim's disability as a vulnerability should be recognized as so-called "hate crimes," meaning crimes with a discriminatory element. Therefore, in 2022, representatives of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, as participants in two working groups for amending the Penal Code, proposed to the Ministry of Justice, among other things, to introduce into the code severe penalties for actions committed based on the victim's disability. This proposal was not accepted, and the draft laws were submitted to the National Assembly without it. In such cases, however, the prosecution has the possibility to highlight this circumstance as an aggravating factor in the responsibility of the perpetrators, and the court has the possibility to take it into account as such when determining the possible punishment.

Regarding the dissemination of photos on social media of one of the individuals involved in the events - Emili Yordanova - displaying her certificate of nomination for the annual human rights awards "Person of the Year" by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, we would like to emphasize that she has not been awarded the prize. We would also like to remind, as we have done in previous attempts to discredit our organization, that the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee does not nominate individuals or organizations for the "Person of the Year" awards. Nominations are collected, and everyone has the opportunity to nominate. All nominees receive a certificate of nomination. Awards are only presented to the winners selected by the jury of the awards. Emili Yordanova has not been honored with the "Person of the Year" awards, and the motives of the nominating person are based on an evaluation of her activities up to 2021.

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