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Access to Information Programme presented the annual awards to Freedom of Information Champions in Bulgaria to mark the 19th Right to Know Day – 28 September 2021.

Access to Information Programme presented the annual awards to Freedom of Information Champions in Bulgaria to mark the Right to Know Day – 28 September 2021.
The ceremony was held online with the participation of about 80 citizens, journalists, representatives of NGOs and public bodies.
The awards were presented in six categories – 4 “Golden Keys” and two anti-awards.
• Category "Citizen who has most actively used the Access to Public Information Act (APIA)"

Honorary Award for lifetime contribution to the freedom of information in Bulgaria

Julian Cholakov was presented with an honorary award for his lifetime efforts and use of the Access to Public Information Act to achieve enhanced openness, transparency and responsiveness of public bodies. The award, presented in memory of Cholakov, was virtually received by his son Alexander Cholakov.

The “Golden Key” award went to

Nikolay Nedelchev from the city of Sofia for persistent and efficient use of the APIA as an anti-corruption tool. As a result of litigation initiated by his requests, the society learned the grounds behind the termination of the inspection of the case which has become renowned as TSUM-gate (2017 informal meeting between the General Prosecutor, the publisher of one of the biggest newspapers “Sega”, and a political leader from the opposition, who owns the building of the Central City Shopping Center – TSUM). In another case, Nedelchev’s persistence led to the release of the list of court cases against the State Fund “Agriculture” sanctions imposed on beneficiaries of the EU Rural Development Program who had received funding for the development of rural guest-houses in proven conflict of interests. It turned out that the State Fund predominantly was losing those cases. The court case for access to the inspection reports of ski-zone Bansko set a precedent in the court practice in favour of the information seekers.
• Category “NGO which has most actively exercised its access to information rights

The “Golden Key” award went to

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee for active, persistent and consistent use of the Access to Public Information Act to obtain access to the official acts issued by the Chief Prosecutor in execution of their constitutional powers, as well as for the litigation against 10 refusals of the Prosecutor’s Office to provide access to information. The BHC team is also persistent in the search of information related to the police violence during the anti-government demonstrations from the summer of 2020.
The honorary diploma went to

The Bulgarian Institute for Legal Initiatives for their investigation on how money assigned for COVID-19 crisis management were spent, as well as the launch of the handbook “Step-by-Step: On the Trail of Money for COVID-19 Management” after successful access to information litigation.
• Category "Best journalist story related to the access to information right"

The “Golden Key” award went to

Spas Spasov from Dnevnik online newspaper for his investigation about the deepening of the canals of the Port of Varna under the agreement concluded between the State Enterprise “Port Infrastructure” and “Transport-Construction and Reconstruction” EAD. The agreement was for over 200 mln. Euro. Spasov initiated and won three access to information court cases and covered every stage of the investigation in a series of publications.
The honorary diploma went to

Krassen Nikolov from the online Mediapool for casting light on a number of urgent issues in the public agenda and also bringing some of the access to information cases to court. He revealed facts about the distribution of luxurious cars among state officials; VAT evasion practices; “golden passports” and obtaining citizenship on merits; inefficiency of the current prosecution high officials and budget increase of a number of institutions within the judiciary.
• Сategory "Institution which has most efficiently organized the provision of public information"

The “Golden Key” award went to

Executive Forests Agency for explicit intention towards enhanced transparency and accountability by the preparation of a public register of the hunting permits, the initiation of the proactive publication online of contracts, permits and inspection reports. The institution also works closely with the civil sector and launched the application Protect the Forest  with the purpose to protect the forests biodiversity and animals in Bulgaria by allowing reports on illegal activities.
The honorary diploma went to

Municipality of Beloslav for their consistent transparency and accountability policies. In 2021, the municipality holds the 4th place in the Active Transparency Rating of all 563 public bodies and is on 3rd place among the 265 municipalities in Bulgaria. It is among the municipalities which responded within 5 days to the access to information request submitted within the annual AIP survey.
• Category "Institution which does not fulfill its obligations under the APIA and violates citizens’ rights under the APIA"

The “Padlock” anti-award went to

The Prosecutors’ Office of Bulgaria for their closure towards the society by systematic refusals to provide information under the Access to Public Information Act, by selective release of information when often some facts remain concealed even for investigative journalists and despite the overriding public interest.
• Category “Most absurd and funniest administrative decision related to an access to information request”

The “Tied Key” anti-award went to

The State Fund “Agriculture” for the absurd practices of issuing a refusal to information which has been published online, instead of referring the requestor to the place of publication.
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The 2021 Right to Know Day campaign in Bulgaria is held within the project Access to Information Forum implemented by Access to Information Programme with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism.
The main objective of the Access to Information Forum project is to improve the transparency and accountability of public institutions. Click here to visit the project's webpage.
28 September – International Right To Know Day
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