Activists are urging the Bulgarian government to denounce a priest’s calls for gay pride marchers in Sofia to be stoned.
In a letter to Justice Minister Diana Kovacheva, Human Rights Watch called for the cleric’s incitement to hatred and violence to be publicly condemned.
In an interview with the Bulgarian Standard on 6 June, Father Evgeniy Yanakiev said 'stones should be thrown' at participants during the event in the Bulgarian capital on 30 June.
‘The call to stone gay people is a heinous threat to the security of peaceful people who want to use their freedom of assembly,’ said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.
‘It is incitement to hatred and violence and should be condemned by the justice minister in the clearest terms and in the most public way possible.’
Campaigners have also urged the Holy Synod, the highest authority in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, to denounce Father Yanakiev’s statements.
But in a statement on 13 June, the church branded the pride parade as ‘immoral’ and homosexuality 'an unnatural passion that undoubtedly harms the personality, the family and the society'.
The church also warned parents and teachers to stop children from taking part in the event, claiming it was a 'harmful demonstration that violates the rights of Orthodox Christians'.
Dittrich says the church’s response leaves LGBT pride marchers ‘out in the cold’.
He added: ‘This makes it all the more imperative for state authorities to support unequivocally the right of the LGBT community to freely and safely exercise their rights to assembly and expression.’
In the letter to Justice Minister Kovacheva, Human Rights Watch wrote that as a member of the Council of Europe, it is the responsibility of the Bulgarian government to protect LGBT people from violence and from hate speech that might lead to violence.
In 2008, right-wing extremist groups and football hooligans violently attacked participants in the first LGBT Pride in Bulgaria.
And last year, unidentified thugs attacked and beat three volunteers from the Sofia Pride Parade.
The police have yet to announce any progress in the investigation into these attacks.