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.