Jock Palfreeman’s hunger strike
Kalin Angelov for Terminal 3
The author of this article has been a professional lawyer with a practice in Sofia since 2003. In 2013 he started working for the Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association. He considers Jock Palfreeman a friend. Having read the materials on Palfreeman’s trial for the murder of student Andrey Monov, he is convinced that the 20-year prison sentence is unjust. Mr Angelov’s account is presented objectively and impartially. If anyone of the persons concerned, feels misrepresented or offended in any way, the author is prepared to take legal responsibility for his words.
On 21 April 2019 Jock Palfreeman, a prisoner of 11 years, declared he was going on an indefinite hunger strike. There are a variety of reasons behind that step, but it all boils down to the tremendous pressure that Palfreeman has endured from the prison administration over the last couple of years. This pressure is instigated and encouraged by the Ministry of Justice, and specifically by the deputy minister responsible for prisons, Nikolai Prodanov.
Palfreeman’s hunger strike is a desperate outcry; a call for help in a moment of woe and adversity.
For the uninitiated – Jock Palfreeman is an Australian citizen who has been serving a 20-year sentence since 28 December 2007 for “murder with hooligan intent” of student Andrey Monov (20 years old ), [son of Hristo Monov – former Security Agent and a high-ranking functionary in BSP – editor’s note] and “attempted murder” of Antoan Zahariev (19 years old). The trial against Palfreeman was criticised by various human rights organisations as unfair. It was held amidst a hysterical atmosphere where only one version of the investigation was followed as viable. Namely that Palfreeman, then 21, motivated by disrespect for the Bulgarian society attacked a group of 16 unsuspecting youths in the centre of Sofia (on the square between Bulbank and Stamboliiski boulevard) and in the ensuing melee killed Andrey Monov and injured Antoan Zahariev. Jock Palfreeman’s version is that he intervened to help two Roma boys attacked by the group themselves and consequently the youths turned against him, so he had to defend himself. His version was completely ignored by the investigation, the prosecution and the judges, as absurd.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association
Over the years spent in prison Jock Palfreeman learned Bulgarian well. His charisma and brimming energy turned him into a natural leader amongst the prison community in Sofia. Since the very beginning of his prison sentence he has voiced his concerns about the violation of the human rights and the malpractices of the prison administration across Bulgaria. With that in mind in 2012 he set up the Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association (BPRA) – the first organisation of this type in Bulgaria, consisting of current and former prisoners, with the aim to defend their rights.
Despite the hostile environment in which the organisation has been operating and the natural setbacks and obstacles, it gradually gained popularity and support amongst prisoners. It has grown increasingly active with each passing year, uncovering incriminating information from behind prison bars, like mass beatings of prisoners by guards in Sofia Central Prison or photos from the dire living conditions inside Pazardjik prison. A representative of the Association (a former prisoner) was invited to participate in the working group for amendments of the prison law, following the ECHR ruling on the case “Neshkov and others vs. Bulgaria” that demanded an overall improvement of the prison conditions. BPRA has successfully run law suits for access to public information; lent legal help to prisoners for filing law suits, which brought up in the public domain significant questions like the right of prisoners to intimate life. The Association has also drafted reports on the conditions inside various penitentiary institutions across Bulgaria and provided them at public discussions for amendments of legal regulations, as well as sent them to the relevant European and international institutions. In 2015 BPRA was nominated in the annual Bulgarian Helsinki Committee awards Human of the Year and won second prize.
BPRA’s activism was met with mixed reception depending on who was in government at any given time. When the authorities sought legitimacy for initiated reforms from their international partners, they looked for support in the association. Reversely, in times of government crises, the administration has looked for ways to obstruct BPRA’s activities and persecute and punish its activists.
As BPRA’s official chairman, Palfreeman, has been a direct target of all the attacks by the administration. Today he is on hunger strike to attract public attention on the fact that for the last two years the authorities are attempting to crush the association by personally targeting him. Wrongfully identifying him as the sole driving force behind the association.
A prison director who thought brute force was the only method of reforming prisoners
In January of 2017 Boyko Borissov’s second government resigned and was succeeded by a caretaker government headed by Ognyan Gerdjikov. It was quick to undertake some key replacements in the state administration and rounded off its mandate by reinstating the old director of Sofia Central Prison, Petar Krestev, and appointing Svilen Tsvetanov as a temporary head of the Chief Directorate for Execution of Sentences (CDES).
Petar Krestev had many reasons to dislike Jock and the Prisoners’ Association. Palfreeman turned out to be a tough nut to break and Krеstev’s sacking in 2014 came as a result of multiple human rights violations, including a mass beating of prisoners by prison guards, corruption allegations and the escape of two prisoners – Nikolai Nikolov and Jose Martinez. A lot of these offenses were reported by Palfreeman. As a head of the Prisoners’ Association he was interviewed by the Committee for Prevention of Torture at the Council of Europe, as well as by some media outlets where he has spoken about all the problems in prison under the management of Petar Krеstev. Palfreeman succeeded in winning a court case in Starsbourg against Bulgaria for a punishment imposed by Krestev (Shahanov and Palfreeman vs. Bulgaria of 21.06.2016 (Cases № 35365/12 и 69125/12)).
Between Krеstev’s two terms as prison director Palfreeman had achieved significant progress in his prison life. He had not had any punishments for over four years. The progressive system in serving a prison sentence had allowed him to use a so called “holiday” (day release) outside of prison three times, two of which – with sleepover. Everything went smoothly during his outings. His individual plan envisaged consequent awards in the form of holidays on the condition that Jock was punishment-free and he rigorously observed good behaviour.
However Petar Krеstev had something else in mind. He did not think that Palfreeman’s sentence plan, drafted by his predecessor, was binding for him and so he stopped Jock’s rewards for good behaviour. Palfreeman ended up as the only prisoner who had been awarded with holidays, had no punishments, and yet aimlessly counted the days to his next award which was now not eminently coming. Petar Krеstev was not in any way bothered. For his overall policies towards the prisoners, and Palfreeman in particular, he had the unconditional support of the then newly appointed Deputy Minister of Justice, Nikolai Prodanov, who appointed him as a permanent prison director.
In an interview to the online media Frognews, the former Deputy Justice Minister, Dimitar Bongalov, had called Petar Krеstev “a brute”. I totally agree with this description. Krеstev’s policies and actions as Sofia Prison director reveal him as someone who believes that brute force is the best way to reform a prisoner.
A deputy minister who is delusional about anti-state activities of prisoners
The formation of Boyko Borissov’s third government parachuted Nikolai Prodanov to the highest political position in charge of the prison system. He was appointed a Deputy Minister of Justice by the coalition partner in the government – the nationalist party VMRO.
Soon after Prodanov’s appointment, in mid-May 2017, I requested a personal meeting with him, which was granted. I was well-disposed and during our conversation I explained why I believed it was a good idea for any deputy minister responsible for prisons to be open to information about what is going on behind bars directly from the prisoners themselves. I pointed out that more often than not, the political figures in office receive filtered information via the regular administration channels, which creates a distorted picture of what is really going on inside the prison system. This only benefits the administration which usually tends to cover up certain facts. I warned Prodanov about Petar Krеstev’s bad reputation from his previous term as Sofia Prison director.
My overall impression of Prodanov from that meeting was not at all negative, albeit some of the things he said left me slightly perplexed. First he remarked that the logo of the association struck him as aggressive, and even more so because of the red and black colour scheme. I found this to be odd, considering that his own party, VMRO, boasts the same colour scheme in their logo. Even more puzzling though was his insistence to receive a list of the members of the association. After a consultation about this request, the association decided that this sort of sensitive information could not be openly provided as it could be used for malevolent purposes. Later developments proved that decision to be right.
The winter of our discontent
In 2017 Jock Palfreeman was not allowed out on his expected holiday and bad news started coming out from Sofia Central Prison. The sports activities were cancelled, the visits were made difficult, there were sexual abuses amongst the prisoners, violence was on the rise and a gangster war broke out between drug-dealing gangs on the prison’s territory. The culmination of all that turmoil was the public rape of a prisoner in the prison courtyard in broad daylight where members of a drug gang, rumoured to be under the special protection of the prison administration, stuck a chilly pepper in the prisoner’s anus. That inflamed the situation to a point which sparked prison riots. Sadly the media barely touched upon the subject, not really making an effort to delve into the reasons behind the events.
In January 2018 a small group of friends and relatives of prisoners staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Justice demanding the resignation of Sofia prison director Petar Krеstev. They warned the ministry that the purpose of Krеstev’s appointment by the caretaker government, was to block any sensible prison reform. During his meeting with the protestors, Deputy Minister Prodanov expressed his full support for Krеstev’s policies and suggested that probably Jock Palfreeman was the instigator of the protest. Only a few small media outlets gave publicity to the protest and the issues it raised.
In mid-March 2018, Nikolai Prodanov was reminded about the Australian yet again, in relation to a letter sent by the Prisoners’ Association to the Council of Europe. The Ministry of Justice had to officially respond to the European Court of Human Rights, Department for the Implementation of Court Decisions, regarding steps taken by the Bulgarian state on the implementation of the Pilot Decision on “Neshkov and Others vs. Bulgaria”.
In the limelight – another prison escape
What followed was one of the lowest points in Nikolai Prodanov’s career as a Deputy Minister of Justice. On April 2, 2018, inmates Vladimir Pelov and Radoslav Kolev succeeded in escaping, easily overcoming prison security checks. The prison director, Petаr Krеstev and the provisional director of CDES, Svilen Tsvetanov, found themselves in untenable positions and were forced to resign. However, Tsvetanov was re-appointed as Deputy Director of CDES. In the following weeks the public saw extensive media coverage on the topic of prison security. The Prisoners’ Association came out with a statement to remind the public that they had rang alarm bells about these problems long before, but no one concerned had listened. It is a curious fact that the Association published an article about the mechanism and the reasons behind the escapes two days before the official report by the Ministry of Justice came out. A comparison of the two texts showed that the Ministry officials had used, without credit of course, information from the Association’s article. Around this time the administration launched active repressions upon any prisoner identified as an activist of the Association. Jock Palfreeman, of course, was at the top of their list.
In May 2018, Palfreeman motioned his first parole appeal to the court. Journalists gathered in the Sofia City Court were surprised to find out that he had not had any punishments over the last few years and that the administration’s general assessment of him was rather positive. This did not last for long.
On May 31, 2018 the Kazhichene prison director, Dessislav Traikov, received a strange document, later entitled “Instructions”. In this document, the provisional Director of CDES Vassil Miladinov, stated that a sticker of the Association had been found in the facility, depicting a fist, thumb between the fingers, and text that read: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”. The “Instructions” document ordered Traikov to undertake immediate investigation into the source of the stickers and punish anybody caught with them in possession. Traikov ordered staff to begin a thorough search on the same day. A specific task was assigned to Dina Marinova, the social worker assigned to Palfreeman. Although no stickers were found in Jock’s possession, Ms. Marinova suddenly recalled that she had seen a similar sticker in her own office, stuck on her own cupboard, and it was Palfreeman to blame for it. She pointed to two witnesses – inmates whom she was also working with – to back up her claim. In short depositions they confirmed their superior’s version. On these grounds Marinova suggested to Traikov to officially punish the Australian, so Traikov proceeded by literally copying and pasting her written deposition. (This part of the story brought to mind a sketch from the famous comedy series “Blackadder”, starring Rowan Atkinson, where his character was standing in a military trial, in which the witness, the prosecutor and the judge were one and the same person, superior in rank to the character. Unfortunately, our story is devoid of humour).
Dessislav Traikov’s actions, however, did not stop there. He ordered the confiscation of the Art club’s computer, which was assigned to Palfreeman as a person in charge of the Art club. Traikov was convinced he would find the original files for the stickers. Of course no such files were found, but amongst all the available files on the computer, which was accessible by all visitors of the club, a porn file was retrieved. Porn materials of any kind are officially forbidden inside prison, so Jock Palfreeman was handed yet another punishment on that particular count.
In addition to all that, a prison guard stated in a written report to Traikov that he had seen Palfreeman swallow a SD card. During the conducted medical examination no such item was found in his body, but that did not stop director Traikov to hand yet another punishment to Palfreeman. Finally, to round off the barrage of repressions, director Dessislav Traikov stopped Jock Palfreeman from work by sacking him as a person in charge of the Art club.
All of these punishments, put together, in the interpretation of the prison administration, mean that over the next two years Jock Palfreeman will not be eligible to receive any awards in the form of day leave or extended visits. Consequently, this might be taken as a pretext to place Palfreeman on a harsher prison regime and considering the courts’ practice that technically means he would not stand a chance if he motions another parole bid. The findings were summarised by Dessislav Traikov in an official report to CDES.
Who is behind it all?
Deputy Minister Prodanov was pleased. In a TV interview of July 10, 2018 on the “Plus-Minus” program of Evropa Television, he boasted about how he personally found the stickers and ordered an investigation into the matter. He stressed that such things concerned him deeply as the case involved actions of prisoners in cooperation with outside forces. The content on the stickers he considered anti-state propaganda. He posted the video interview on his Facebook profile, with the following blurb: “Let’s put an end to the joint anti-state activities of convicted criminals and “human rights defenders” in Bulgarian prisons!” An interesting fact is that around the same time Dessislav Traikov took a significant leap in his career – from Director of the Kazichene open prison he was promoted to Deputy Director and Head of the Regime Activities in Sofia Central Prison, also responsible for the prisons in Sofia, Kremikovtsi and Kazichene”. Dina Marinova was appointed legal advisor of Sofia Prison.
Where do we go from here?
Given Deputy Minister’s personal intervention in the matter, it is not surprising that none of his subordinates was willing to see any problems with the imposed punishments. Moreover, the prison administration explained to Palfreeman that the only award he stood a chance of receiving was a “written praise”. He cannot even hope to expect an award in the form of “cancellation of punishment” with the absurd argument that he had officially appealed the punishments in court. In contradiction with legal principles, his right to appeal is being used to aggravate his situation. His court cases against his punishments and his sacking from work are at different stages in the court process. They straggle along in time and have varying success.
Ultimately, Jock Palfreeman came to realise that regardless the potential for positive outcomes from his lawsuits, an excuse can always be found for him to be punished again and again. He learned the harsh truth that whatever his behaviour in prison is, he would be kept in a situation of the permanently “guilty of something” prisoner during the remaining years of his sentence. The administration keeps silent.
Jock Palfreeman’s hunger strike is a desperate cry to break this silence. Nobody tells him what is wanted from him, nobody tells him what is expected of him. As I write this, the hunger strike has gone for a tenth day , despite all his friends’ attempts to convince him to stop.
Christ has risen!
“Terminal 3” supports Jock Palfreeman!
 Translator’s note: At the time this translation was completed, Palfreeman’s strike entered its 17th day.