… although the Ministry of Justice has been congratulating itself in 2016 for having given drinking water to prisoners. Repression against activist prisoners continues and indeed against the very prisoner whose case in the European Court of Human Rights forced the Ministry of Justice to improve the conditions in the first place, in case someone has made the mistake that the Bulgarian state has given toilets and drinking water to prisoners out of the goodness of their hearts.

The repression was instigated by the old guard from the former governments however it continues to this day, specifically I am referring to one of the most prolific prison activists in Bulgaria, the name of whom is on the lips of every single jurist in Bulgaria, yet as a person he is almost totally unknown. His name is Svetlomir Neshkov (Светломир Нешков) and he possibly has the most successful cases against the national prion authority (Head Directive for the Fulfilment of Punishments) of any single prisoner in Bulgaria ever.

In almost every prison where Neshkov has been housed he has met with reprisals for his immediate and valid requests and complaints to defend his rights. It is somewhat stereotypical, but nevertheless a reality, that the prison administrations would take repressive actions against any prisoner who defends their rights in Bulgaria, it is not only well known to all prisoners, but even referred to by inspectors from the Council of Europe – Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

However now the Bulgarian state is faced with a Pilot Decision from the ECHR which establishes Bulgarian prisons as fundamentally and systematically in violation of the human rights of all those who are housed there. Essentially, the very act of putting people in prison, be they criminals or not, is itself a crime.

The Ministry of Justice is eager to prove to the Council of Europe and the ECHR that they have made advances in elementary human rights that even farm animals have, for example drinking water. But the man greatly responsible for the course of events that have led to this point has been charged with a trumped up politically motivated accusation.

Neshkov has been accused by the Belene prison administration of having broken an already broken TV in June 2015. With unprecedented pressure from the prison administration the Regional Court was pushed into charging Neshkov with Article.216 – hooliganism, a form of social disruption that comes with a sentence of up to 5 years prison.

Amazingly the Regional Prosecutor initially refused to charge Neshkov, citing it as too petty and irrelevant to warrant the state’s time. The TV in question was already garbage; there are no witnesses other then the alleged “victim”, a prisoner who is well known for being a lackey of the corrupt Belene prison administration. The “victim” also can’t prove that the TV was his or that he bought it or for how much.

The Belene prison administration pressured the prisoner who is alleged to have owned the broken TV, privileges were offered and given to the prisoner for testifying. The Belene prison administration couldn’t officially appeal the Regional Prosecutor’s refusal to start criminal proceedings so through a proxy prisoner Yordan Hristov Jaferov (Йордан Христов Джаферов), the prisoner appealed the refusal of the Regional Prosecutor to the Regional Court. The Regional Court overturned the refusal and so gave the go ahead for criminal proceedings, the Prosecutor’s office appealed the overturned decision to the County Court but lost the appeal and so the decision to continue criminal proceedings was confirmed. As a form of bribe for the perjury, Yordan Jaferov had his security classification (Тип) dropped and he now enjoys his time in prison in a villa environment, a house separated from the prison without guards, and he’s allowed to work outside. If he withdrew his testimony, he would be moved back into closed prison conditions.

This is the typical reaction of corrupt prison authorities and courts, what is amazing is that usually it is through the Prosecutor’s office that the prison authorities repress activist prisoners as every prison has a permanently attached Prosecutor who becomes friends with the prison administration. But the audacity of the prison authorities is even more evident when even the Prosecutor refused to charge Neshkov. The courts are easily influenced by prison authorities as they are extremely incestuous. Furthermore, there are only two judges for criminal proceedings in the Regional Court of Levski and the judge allocated is also a judge who Neshkov has had extensive dealings with over his fight for basic human rights within the Belene prison. Indeed many of Neshkov’s cases were thrown out by the same judge only to be successful in other courts.

Neshkov requested that the case be heard in Sofia where there could be guaranteed a random selection of a judge, as the judges in Levksi Regional Court are biased towards him but his request was denied. As one of the judges had already overturned the Prosecutors refusal to prosecute, it meant that there was only one eligible judge left in Levski Regional Court. So he was allocated at “random” a judge out of a group of judges that has only one judge. Obviously this means that the court proceedings are a total façade right from the beginning.

Neshkov was already punished several times for the same accusation by the Belene prison and indeed the prosecutor and courts. He was put in an isolation punishment cell, stopped from work and he even had his sentence increased when time off accrued by working was annulled by the same court who is currently looking at his case now. The time off his sentence was annulled as a form of arbitrary punishment directly connected to the breaking of the already broken TV. If convicted now for hooliganism, it will be in effect his 3rd punishment for a violation that he didn’t even commit; all because he was relentless in defending his rights and the rights of those around him in Belene and other prisons around Bulgaria.

Even if Neshkov is given a light sentence, a sentence given to a prisoner whilst they are already serving a sentence has very serious results and prevents any chance of early release and severely impacts a prisoner’s chances at gaining other privileges such as day releases or work.

The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association demands that the state investigates the corrupt practices of the Belen prison administration and the Levski Regional court, which is actually a single judge hearing the cases for Neshkov. If the Bulgarian state has no fear that the case is valid, then the state should not fear the case being heard in Sofia Regional Court.

We demand that the Ministry of Justice investigate the bribes paid to the prisoner in the way of privileges for making the false statements against Neshkov.

The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association demands that the trumped up charges against Svetlomir Neshkov are dropped.

We request help from the public, we believe that someone who has done so much for the human rights of prisoners in Bulgaria should not be left alone in his time of need, especially as the repression against him is a direct act of revenge for his activism against the corrupt and backward prison administrations.

Please write to the Minister of Justice:
Ekaterina Zaharieva, Minister of justice of Republic of Bulgaria
Slavyanska 1 Street
1040, Sofia

Jock Palfreeman, Chairman of BPRA