After the Elections in Bulgaria

The Association sent out invitations to political parties in the lead up to the elections which were on the 12/May/2013. However not a single party responded with their policies for prison and Justice institutional reforms. There could be many reasons why political parties ignored our requests for information about their Justice reform policies. However one reason favoured over others is that all Bulgarian political parties are afraid to be seen as “helping prisoners” or the party being labelled “the prisoners’ party”. The extreme social stigma surrounding those arrested does the rest. However old fashioned and childish this seems it is most likely the reality in Bulgarian politics. Unfortunately what this lack of political interest for prison and Justice reform means is that it seems that there isn’t any party that the several thousands of prisoners (eligible to vote) can vote for that will represent them. What IS clear to almost all prisoners is that the last 4 years have seen a massive rise in violations and crimes committed by the Justice institutions. Violations and crimes range from illegal convictions by courts, discriminatory and persecutory punishments by prison administrations and guards assaulting prisoners. All of which have drastically increased in number, breadth and depth, under the GERB party’s government headed by Boiko Borrisov. Ironically there hasn’t been a government so full of “alleged” criminals since 1989 in Bulgaria. Which has left many prisoners in shock at the blatantly arbitrary application of the law. The old saying rings true for the prisoner in Bulgaria “one law for them, another for us”.


Amongst other things, 3 major violations stand out. In December 2012 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the then “Secretary General of the Ministry”, General Boiko Borrisov ordered police to shoot rockets at a house where Mr Todor Dimov Todorov was hiding with a pistol to hide from serving a 6 month prison sentence. Straight away eyebrows are raised that the state claims a man locked himself in a house with a pistol to avoid a 6 month sentence which in Bulgaria is known as “tourist time”. However the ECHR found that “the use of heavy weapons and explosives, with the attendant risk for human life, cannot be regarded as justified in the circumstances” (see case of Dimov and other v Bulgaria § 78) The ECHR unsurprisingly found that the Bulgarian state has violated the “state’s obligation…. To investigate effectively the circumstances in which Mr Todorov lost his life”.


In a nutshell Boiko Borrisov should be charged with the murder of Mr Todorov or at the very lease charged with attempted murder or endangering his life, for personally giving the order to shoot no less then 15 anti tank rockets at Mr Todorov. The other “alleged” crime was ordering police to cease a search on an alcohol factory that was either producing illegal alcohol or undeclared alcohol. The conversation was recorded between the officer in command and Boiko Borrisov. Boiko Borrisov protects the mega wealthy whilst exploding sheep thieves with rockets.


The 3rd “alleged” crime was committed by Svetan Svetanov, the GERB number 2 man. Svetan was Boiko’s Vice-Prime Minister AND Minister of Interior (responsible for police). In the few weeks running up to the election the Prosecutors Office released a statement claiming to the effect that there was enough evidence to conclude that Svetan Svetanov has committed a crime. The crime being illegal phone taps, ranging from “business men” to politicians themselves. Unfortunately or maybe conveniently, Svetan Svetanov and Boiko Borrisov can’t even be charged as they have immunity as either members of parliament or candidates in the run up to the elections.


As per usual the Bulgarian state shows its colours. If you “steal” 10€ of discarded junk metal to feed you family, you’ll receive a year in prison with subhuman conditions. If you fire 15 anti tank rockets at a sheep thief you can become Prime Minister where your government spies on opposition and the general public en masse. There’s hardly enough time to list GERB’s “achievements” of the past 4 years as they impact on prisoners. But some in brief include:


  • Postponing the entering into force of Article 43(3) that guarantees every prisoner a minimum of 4m2 “personal space”. The law was supposed to enter into force in January 2013, but GERB postponed it until 2019! Leaving prisoners with no minimum space requirements. This means that there is still no limit as to how many prisoners can be squeezed into a prison or cell. Needless to say the GERB government saw a massive rise in prison overcrowding over the past 4 years.
  • The GERB government disallowed prisoners to use the costless government internal postal system. This means prisoners without money are not able to send requests or complaints for free to government institutions outside of their respective remand of prison. This is a huge blow to prisoners’ rights to complain, make requests and appeals. Even if a prisoner can afford postage, there is no longer a provided tracking number as previously given with the governmental internal mailing system. Now even if a prisoner buys a stamp there is no way to guarantee that a legal document has or has no been sent or received. This problem can and does have disastrous results for prisoners, for example, when prisoners have a deadline to submit requests, complaints or appeals, a letter without a tracking number could get “lost” and the deadline limit for appeal lapse without anything being received.
  • The GERB government also appointed Peter Krestev as Director of Sofia Central Prison, which for those of you who read this site will know has persistently violated human rights in his misguided sense of omnipotence. To date The Association estimates over 13 cases of human rights violations have been brought against the Bulgarian state in the European Court of Human Rights directly as a result of illegal orders and practices made by Peter Krestev. Unfortunately the tax payer will be punished as per usual, which should as a reminder that those you vote for really have an impact on your wallet. Unfortunately Peter Krestev has been promotes temporarily to National Director of prison, he wasn’t the first choice for the position but all the other candidates refused the position except Peter Krestev. Hopefully for human rights and the tax payer a more suitable National Director will be found soon, one who has been educated on both national Bulgarian law and the European Convention of Human Rights.
  • The GERB government’s response to the increase of asylum seekers entering Bulgaria form the Middle East and Africa was to criminalise them. Prior to the GERB government in 2009 there wasn’t a single asylum seeker in prison. Now there are almost 100, most of which in Sofia Central Prison. Obviously GERB’s solution to the overcrowding of the immigration institutions for asylum seekers was to throw as many as possible illegally into prison. There are no asylum seekers in prison from Mali, Syria, Tamil-land, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia and Kurdish from Turkey, as well as many others. Entering Bulgaria through non-conventional means to seek asylum is not illegal in Bulgaria, on the contrary, all asylum seekers who enter Bulgaria are protected within the Criminal Code itself, according to Article 279(5), which states to the effect “those who enter the country to use their rights of asylum as according to the constitution will not have criminal responsibility”. But with illegal and manipulative practices prosecutors and judges convince them to sign fake “confessions” to then “accept a deal” from the prosecutor that is then rubber stamped by the courts. All of which is written in Bulgarian language, a language that is only spoken in Bulgaria, meaning no asylum seeker knows what their inditement says of the “confession” they’re signing. Recently over 30 asylum seekers in Sofia Central Prison concluded a collective hunger strike. The asylum seekers convicted illegally as “illegal border crossers” are planning another mass protest lat May. Demanding that their illegal convictions are overturned and their rights according to Article 279(5) are finally respected.


The end there is no political alternative for the prisoner or his/her family and friends. The right-wing are naturally hostile towards prisoners and the “left-wing” are unnaturally nationalistic, meaning they too are hostile towards prison reform. As a friend said “no politician will reform the prison system, until politicians themselves become prisoners” so we invite Boiko Borrisov and Svetan Svetanov to join us in conviction. Who knows? Maybe they will join The Prisoners’ Association.




Asylum seekers criminalized by the law in Bulgaria

 Since about mid 2010 Sofia Central Prison has been filling up with asylum seekers, this is as they are entering Bulgaria their rights are not only being ignored but are being purposefully denied by the police, prosecutors’ office and the courts.

According to Article 279(5) of the criminal law asylum seekers are protected from criminal prosecution when crossing the borders without permission. However the criminal justice system in many cases ignores the protected status of asylum seekers who cross the Bulgarian borders. What the prosecutors’ office does is on the rim of legality. Asylum seekers arrested at borders are put into criminal remand prisons and are held as criminals under the charge of Article 279(1) of the criminal law, which is the charge of illegal border crossing. They are almost always left in subhuman conditions that are standard for Bulgarian prisons and especially remand prisons close to borders where asylum seekers are most likely to be arrested and held. A prosecutor will approach that asylum seekers and tell them to the effect that “they are charged with a crime that comes with a maximum sentence of 5 years”, their rights are not explained to them that they are protected in order to claim asylum and they are usually not given access to a lawyer, and when they do get a state lawyer, the state lawyer lies to them to finish the work faster (as is common practice for all state lawyers in Bulgaria). The prosecutor offers them two choices, sign a “deal” (споразумения) which is in effect a confession that the border crossing was a crime. This however is not explained to the asylum seeker. It is explained to them that if they sign this piece of paper they will go free, if not they will get 5 years prison. The inditements are almost never translated into a language the asylum seeker can understand as according to Article 6-3a of the European Convention of Human Rights, this is as the prosecutors office is both lazy and doesn’t want to spend the money on a translation of the inditement. What’s more they are never informed about their rights, i.e. that according to Article 279(5) of the Bulgarian criminal law (HK) “not punished are those who enter the country to use the right to asylum as according to the constitution” “Не се наказва онзи, който влезе в страната, за да се ползува от правото на убежище съгласно с Конституцията.”


The asylum seeker in his/her mind has two choices, sign a piece of paper written in a language they don’t understand and go free or stay in prison for 5 years, as these are the choices offered by prosecutors. Usually these deals result in suspended sentences and this is what the prosecutors represent as “going free”. The suspended sentences usually range from 4 months prison to a year in prison; the expiry date for the suspended sentences is roughly 2 years. It’s a no brainer, the paper is signed and it’s all countersigned and stamped as legal by the judge and the asylum seeker is sent on his/her way, usually to an immigrant prison or asylum seeker “camp”, an open hostel type environment.


Some asylum seekers have family in Western Europe or they are unable to live in Bulgaria due to lack of employment and lack of social and governmental support that is standard in Bulgaria. For obvious reasons some asylum seekers and refugees choose to leave Bulgaria, even some who want to return to their country of origin but who don’t or can’t wait the prolonged wait for personal identification documents to be made by the Ministry of Immigration. If these people are arrested a second time they are again convicted of illegal border crossing, but also the first suspended sentence come into force in addition with the second sentence.

This means in effect that asylum seekers can end up as convicted criminals. Where they usually will serve between 8months and 1.5years. In prison they are constantly discriminated against as they are said to have “small sentences”. They are rarely allowed to work or study and thus reduce their sentences and for the past 5 years not a single asylum seeker convicted under Article 279(1) and Article 279(2) have been “proposed” by the prison administration for early release. This means that as they have “small sentences” they will in practice serve the entirety of their sentences with no hope of being released early for good behaviour (which is actually part of a more general problem within the prisons and the legislation governing convicted people)


During this period in prison, asylum seekers have great difficulties getting money from foreign countries, especially those from war torn countries, for example at the moment Syria and Mali. Most have not spent a lot of time in Bulgaria and therefore do not understand the language or “accepted norms” within the prison system. They are faced with severe discrimination and racism from both the prison staff and Bulgarian prisoners. They also have a hard time understanding that they are convicted criminals and no longer considered asylum seekers. As far as the Association knows, only Bulgaria is convicting asylum seekers for unauthorised border crossings within the European Union and due to the massive social upheavals in Africa and the Middle East the problem is only compounding.

From Jock Palfreeman

Chairman of the Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association


Below you can find the files of useful leaflets:

Dublin II 2012

Brochure for asylum seekers English 2013

Brochure for asylum seekers French 2013