BPRA’s request for donations

The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association has great news! After 2 years of lawyers, friends, favours, notaries, rubber stamps, taxes, fees, identity witnesses and the lawyer for the Association going to over 8 banks! We finally got a bank account for the Association!

This means we can finally move on with the next step in the Association’s life. For what good is an association or union if it can not defend its own members!

The plan is simple; money collected by international donations will be used to pay lawyers to represent prisoners. For example, a prisoner is punished for a mobile phone for 14 days isolation cell. The prisoners is illiterate (as roughly 80% are) and broke (as roughly 90% are). So said prisoner can not appeal the punishment order. That’s where the prisoners asks the Association to jump in. depending on the logistics and complexity of the appeal needed either a prisoner or a lawyer will write the appeal for the prisoner. Sometimes an appeal can be simple enough but then there is no way to guarantee that it will leave the prison and make it to court, so again a lawyer is needed in the capacity of a mail man.

But appealing punishments doesn’t delay the coming into force of the punishment. So before the appeal is heard the prisoner goes to isolation. He does the full punishment of 14 days as is returned to general population where he then gets called to court. The judge overturns the punishment order but the immediate effect of the punishment was already enacted. So the prisoner can sue, but Bulgarian law is strange in that you must pay a % of the money you’re asking for as a deposit before submitting compensation requests. So you need money to ask for money, not to mention the lawyer fees.

Compensation cases are not at all ‘just about money’. It is in our collective interest to see the state punished for ordering frivolous punishments in the hope that bureaucrats that make said orders are reprimanded and the states practices changed in regards to the running of the prisons.

Up until now almost no one does or can sue the prison for wrongful punishment or for some other form of illegal order and so the prison administration continues to issue illegal orders with impunity. Even some prisoners are put in isolation fast as the prison knows that upon a court hearing the punishment will be overturned and no longer enforceable.

Of course if we win the cases the money should come back to the Association by way of contract with the lawyers. But cases can take years to reach conclusion and then even more so in chasing the state for reparations. But time is on OUR side!

Another issue is that the prison commits systematic violations of prisoners’ rights especially against prisoners with 1-2 year sentences; it can take the entire length of these prisoners’ sentences to get a court hearing or conclusion. Without a lawyer many cases are forgotten about once the prisoner goes free and so the prison in this way is allowed to repeat the same violations again and again. By employing lawyers the Association can help to stop systematic violations. Some cases are continuing despite the prisoner even being deported, which obviously the ex-prisoner could not do from Iran for example. Many victims of administrative violations are illegal immigrants convicted for illegal border crossing, most of whom are broke and do not understand Bulgarian which in itself is a major factor to violations, the lack of translators.

The project will work on the basis that lawyers will be employed on a case by case basis. Although the lawyers will be getting paid there is an understanding that the Associations funds are limited and so they have been very accommodating in terms of fees. In this regard the lawyers work should be considered to be mostly voluntarily.

The fee for appealing an order of the prison and defending a prisoner can be between 12€ and 50€, obviously there are some more complex cases that require a lot more detail and time, but the majority of the need lies within that cost bracket. Our goal is to raise about 3000€ which will see between roughly 250 and 60 prisoners defended yearly witch ranges from about 25% to 6% of the Sofia Central Prison population of 1000 prisoners, although we don’t want to limit ourselves to Sofia alone it is were we are the most organised. Obviously if we exceed out budget target more prisoners will be represented and we’ll also be able to take on more complicated yet often more substantial cases.

Please help donate. Have a whip around, 5 bucks from 20 people or 10 from 10 and city by city all over the world the coffers will be easily filled. For those who can, a fun way would be to organise a party or mini concert and charge people for entry. This is a grass roots way to really make a difference in fighting for the rights of prisoners in the European Unions poorest country.

Our account information is thus:

IBAN: BG29TEXI95451003928100

BIC: TEXIBGSF

Texim Bank

For further information, please contact us at BPRA1309@gmail.com

Warning, money will not be used or given to/for a specific prisoner, donations are for the Associations’ uses not to be mistaken with a money transfer to a specific prisoner. Money sent by friends or family to a prisoner will not be facilitated by us!

Jock Palfreeman

Chairman of the:

Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association

БЪЛГАРСКО ЗАТВОРНИЧЕСКО СДРУЖЕНИЕ ЗА РЕХАБИЛИТАЦИ

BPRA Here To Stay!

Imprisonment over the conviction time

There have been numerous calls for some information to escape the prison walls of Sofia Central and I hope I can appease these requests for information although I am not sure what people will find interesting.

Daily I am continuing my university degree via correspondence that was guaranteed after a 30 day hunger strike by the Ministry of Justice in May 2013. My marks are good and steady despite the lack of internet and source material.

When I am not working on my university degree I am usually helping other prisoners with one problem or another. Recently a young Iranian convicted to 1.5 years prison for illegal immigration has had 3 months of his served time lost by the court authorities. The process to find these missing days held in remand and have them calculated as time served is long and arduous simply due to the sluggish nature of the Bulgarian courts and the inexperience of the state bureaucracy. I was told by the prison authorities (who of course refused to help the Iranian themselves) that I should write to the remand prison to have an account of his time served pre trial written up. I argued that it was not the responsibility of the remand prison to calculate time served and I argued that only a court could calculate time served. In the end to kill 2 birds I wrote to both the remand prison and the court asking them to calculate the time served for the young Iranian. 2 months later the remand prison replied that they would not even tell us how many days the Iranian had been held in their prison let alone help with calculating time served. So I was right and the prison authorities were wrong, however the situation is still not resolved as it’s almost 3 months and despite the 2 month reply limit for all requests in Bulgaria the court has still not replied in regards to the matter of the missing 3 months of served time.

I said to the Iranian, “you’re lucky you have 1.5 years and you’re at the beginning of your sentence because you see it took 2 months just to have a rejection letter sent by the remand prison and 3 months and still no reply from the court”. 4 months served in the prison prior to me being aware of the situation, plus the 3 months waiting for the court to not reply and the 3 months in question served in pre trial remand, he now has 10 months served of his 18 month sentence.

What’s my point? My point is that by the time the Bulgarian court gets into gear he could have finished his entire sentence and then some. This is a common enough occurrence in Bulgarian prisons, especially those sentenced under 5 years imprisonment. Over 6 years and the courts seem capable to handle the processing of convicts and their release dates, but under 5 years, especially those with 1-3 year sentences and possible there isn’t a single prisoner who is released when they should be.

Of course as is the bureaucratic way in Bulgaria, ‘when in doubt the prisoner can do without’ meaning that if there is any doubt about anything it is better to violate the rights of the prisoner and have the problem sorted out later rather then guarantee the rights of the prisoner and possible make a bureaucratic error. This means the prison is more then happy to hold prisoners months over their release date as that is preferable to the possibility that a prisoner could be released early.

My days are concerned with such matters; there are just too many prisoners to help. As this is the case I wanted to start with the Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association a legal aid umbrella, where the Association would pay lawyers to defend prisoners post conviction. In Bulgaria once you’re convicted there is little to no free legal help or defence. This means that prisoners are at the mercy of the prison administration that more often then not orders punishments to prisoners arbitrarily according to the whims of the psychologically unstable prison administration. Although many of these orders decreed by the prison administration can be overturned in court, the vast percentage of prisoners are illiterate and even more don’t understand the laws at all.

Legal aid and bank account

Without a legal aid program prisoners are left defenceless against illegal orders given by the prison administration. The idea is to establish good relationships between the Association and some sympathetic lawyers who would represent prisoners for reasonable rates on the understanding that clients would be constant and also with experienced prisoners in the Association sorting through the simple cases most of the riff raff will have already been sorted before the lawyer is even involved so as to minimize the work load.

My grandeur plan, which was to start with a small budget of 3600€ a year (estimated between 144 and 72 prisoners represented a year) which we have been working on for I think about 2 years now has finally overcome the hurdle of opening a bank account. It was EXTREMLY difficult to open a bank account but as of June 2014 a lawyer for the Association was able to open an account after going to over 7 banks! All of which flat out rejected to even consider opening a bank account for the Association.

Our account information is:

Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association (in notes)

Texim Bank

IBAN: BG29TEXI95451003928100

BIC: TEXIBGSF

All donations will be ecstatically received!!! No amount too small!! It will all add up and be put to good use, at the moment the money will be used to defend prisoners’ rights especially in regards to appealing illegal orders given by the prison administrations.

 

October 17th 2013

The “check” into the guards collective punishment of mass assault on the 17th October 2013 was concluded by the Regional Prosecutor as not having enough evidence with which to start an investigation.. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee helped to appeal the decision of the prosecutor, which by order of the Sofia City Prosecutors’ office was granted and the “check” was returned back to the beginning. Now I say “check” as it’s not an investigation, the legal process of “checking” carries with it very few if any rights for the victim or guidelines established by law as to what an investigator can and can’t do. In typical form the second “check” is being carried out by the same investigator who conducted the first “check” whose conclusion was overturned. If it was an investigation, the process would have to be undertaken a second time by a new investigator, but as it is only the repeat of a “check” there is no such stipulation that the new “check” be carried out by a new investigator.

Transfer

There is no news on the transfer front although the social workers of the prison recommend me for good behaviour citations the Director of the prison Peter Krestev refuses to signoff on the recommendations of his social workers. So as the Director of Sofia Central Prison is constantly passing on false information to the Head Prosecutors office it is hard to differentiate between the political pressures asserted by the government over the Head Prosecutor Tsatsarov and the false information he officially basing his decisions on supplied by the Director of Sofia Central Prison.

Please write letters to the Head Prosecutor requesting that he allow a transfer to happen, as serving my prison time in an Australian prison does not inhibit the goals of the conviction, but on the contrary it is a proven fact that goals of convictions are unlikely to be met by foreigners serving their convictions in foreign prisons and societies.

The address:

Head Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov

Number 2

Vitosha Boulevard

Sofia 1061

Bulgaria

Conclusion

Many thanks to those who have organised or helped to organise solidarity actions and fund raising activities for both myself and the Association. As usual I would like to thank my father and step mother for their constant support over the rough ocean waves of ups and downs. I don’t say it enough (or at all) but I love you very much and I am grateful for your constant support. A special thankyou to Brighton ABC who has supported me for well over 6 years now, they have been busy with their own problems but have always made time to help me.

Solidarity

  • To Panagiotis Argyros, DamianoBolano and Gerasimos Tsakalos in Greek prison, may their sacrifices never be forgotten and their resistance echo through time and may the Greek capitalists always look over their shoulders.
  • To Thomas Mayer-Falk who has finished his conviction in Germany and is now being held post sentence under the monstrous “preventive detention” order, where he is essentially imprisoned for his anti capitalist beliefs not due to any actual crime that he has committed
  • To Joel and Dennis Thelning who were convicted for defending an anti-fascist demonstration in Sweden and received outrageously high prison sentence

Jock Palfreeman

Chairman, Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association