On the 15th of March 2013 the Sofia riot police entered Sofia Central Prison, they were reacting to an alert that the Director – Peter Krestev sent out due to an unprecedented amount of written and signed complaints against the prison’s conditions and indeed the Director himself, with many prisoners calling for him to be dismissed by parliament. After writing a list of wanted changes Yanko Vatashki was immediately sent to isolation after his cell was ransacked. Yanko’s only guilt was to complain. Proving that free speech is dead in Bulgaria!

The prison administration instead of communicating with us has taken the reactionary decision to declare our peaceful demands constitute a “riot” despite this never having been mentioned by Yanko Vatashki nor anyone else in The Association. This means that the prison has been put on high alert and essentially in a lock down type of mode. In effect the Director Peter Krestev has incurred the atmosphere of riot without it being proposed by the prisoners themselves, the reactionary measures against Yanko Vatashki and the prison as a whole has actually propagated the idea amongst prisoners that a riot is the only way parliament and Bulgarian society will listen to the cries of prisoners for reform. No one has promoted riot more then the prison administration themselves.

Although the GERB party resigned from parliament recently, unfortunately their underlings who rose quickly through the bureaucratic ranks are still clinging on. The nationalist-conservative politics of the GERB party was mirrored over the last 4 years with a massive rise in guard on prisoner violence and other repressive and illegal measures, no one exemplifies this better then Peter Krestev who was promoted very quickly with his friend Mitko Dimitrov, the former National Director of Prisons who was forced into early retirement following the ‘Committee for the Prevention of Torture’ report of December 2012 which can be found on this blog.

Really the question now is, why was Mitko Dimitrov forced from office but those around him were and are not? The ‘caretaker’ government should look seriously at the current problems most of which have been aggravated by Boiko Borrisov’s GERB party over the last 4 years. Instead of reforming the judicial system and the prison institutions all the GERB party succeeded in doing was pass a law stopping prisoners from sending appeals, complaints and requests through the prison postal system to their respective governmental institutions for example courts. This means that prisoners without money have effectively had their right to complain, appeal and request denied as they now must pay for postage themselves. It also means that even if a prisoner can pay for a stamp, there is no guarantee that the letter will arrive at it’s destination as the prison no longer gives recording numbers or tracking numbers. This is a constant problem where social workers and prison administrators destroy personal and legal correspondence and prisoners can not prove anything has happened. Previously this was not the case as a tracking number was supplied by the prison. This is all the Ministry of Justice accomplished under 4 years of GERB rule as far as prisons go.

The list of demands are but not exclusively:

  1. The immediate resignation of the Director of Sofia Central Prison, Peter Krestev.
  2. Parliament to pass an amnesty for those with small sentences remaining and partial amnesties for those with larger sentences.
  3. Parliament should start an immediate audit of the Ministry of Justice corporation “Prison Work- Затворническо Дело”. The corporation’s profits are by law for the improvement of prison conditions yet not a single lev has been spent on improving prison conditions! The money instead is being stolen and defrauded by the managing body of the corporation!
  4. The prisons’ canteens (shops) be regulated by the administration for fair trade, the shops are ran by “Prison Work- Затворническо Дело” and so the prices are excessively high so as to extort more money from prisoners and also so as to launder the money from the government corporation “Prison Work- Затворническо Дело” into private companies.
  5. Parol to be made a right, presently parol is an arbitrary decision of the directors of prisons and there is no right of appeal.
  6. Increased medical staff and medicines, also for the prison health services to come under the authority of the Ministry of Health and not the Ministry of Justice as there is a conflict of interest between caring for the health of prisoners and keeping them locked up.
  7. The 24 hour intimate visits with family and friends to be re-instated, it is appalling that prisoners only have the right for 2, 40minute visits behind bars a month.
  8. The end of life sentences, life sentences should be considered fully served after 20 years imprisonment, at present life sentences mean prisoners are condemned to die in prison.
  9. Guards who assault prisoners should be fired! Such as Mitko Spasov who constantly seriously assaults prisoners.
  10. Yanko Vatashki should be released from the isolation unit as writing complaints is not a crime.
  11. All “illegal” immigrants who choose should be deported instead of serving convictions in prison for “illegal” border crossings.
  12. All foreigners who want to transfer back to their countries or origin should be allowed to do so, so that they can serve their sentences in their home countries close to their family and friends.
  13. Every communal cell (normally with between 6-10 prisoners) should have the right to a hot plate for cooking, there should be an end to discrimination of diet from person to person and group to group.

The Association calls on international support for our protests and against the repressive measures of Sofia Central Prison’s administration!

Please organise actions of solidarity and letters of disgust that prisoners in Bulgaria are punished for voicing concerns of dehumanising conditions and corruption within the prison clique. Letters of protest should be sent to the

Ministry of Justice
Slavanska 1 Str
Sofia 1040

You can also write letters of support for prisoners who have sacrificed a lot in order to demand the rehabilitation of the prison institutions such as:

Yanko Vatashki
Sofia Central Prison
21 General N. Stoletov BLVD
Sofia 1309
(Currently in isolation for complaining about the conditions in Sofia Central Prison, Yanko can only read Bulgarian, but all languages are welcome as other prisoners can translate)

And also

Miglena Aleksandrova Dimitrova
Sliven Female Prison
Kvartal “Indistrialen”
Sliven 8800
(Currently being persecuted by the Sliven Prison administration as she is the first female member of the Association. Midlena can only read Bulgarian, but all languages are welcome as other prisoners can translate for her)

The Association also expresses solidarity to the prisoner struggles currently in Greece.

Jock Palfreeman