Australian anti-fascist campaigner Jock Palfreeman’s parole is being challenged by Bulgarian authorities and his lawyer has said he urgently needs to leave the country.
Palfreeman, who has been imprisoned in Bulgaria since 2007, was unexpectedly granted parole on September 19, after serving 11 years of a 20-year sentence on trumped-up murder charges. He was last denied parole on July 17.
He is currently being detained in an immigration detention centre outside the capital, Sofia.
Palfreeman’s lawyer, Kalin Angelov told the ABC on September 24 that Australia needs to act. “Your authority needs to come here, take him with the car and put him on the plane.”
Fascist sympathisers have made no secret that they are out to prevent Palfreeman from leaving prison. Rallies have been organised to demand his parole be reversed.
News of Palfreeman’s parole came as a surprise to everyone. His friend Dessislava Tzoneva told Green Left Weekly: “After the court rejected Jock’s parole in July, he and his lawyer appealed. They took it to a higher court — the Appellate Court.
“It was incredible luck that his case fell upon this particular panel of judges. The head judge is known to be an independent-minded person who opposes government pressure.”
The next day, Palfreeman was taken from Sofia Prison to the Busmantsi Immigration Detention Centre to await his Australian papers. But five days later, Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor initiated proceedings to try to prevent him from leaving the country. The hearing will be held on October 23.
No one seemed to know why Palfreeman’s departure from the detention centre was delayed. First it was thought that he had not received his passport. But Tzoneva confirmed on September 24 that he received it.
In other words, Palfreeman is being held illegally in Bulgaria.
Tzoneva said Palfreeman told her the Australian embassy officials could have put him on a plane as soon as he was given his passport.
“We believe that direct action should be taken at the highest governmental level”, Tzoneva said. “Time is of paramount importance. Jock is effectively a free man before an eventual Supreme Court ruling. Holding him at the detention centre is illegal.”
Angelov told the ABC that Palfreeman had signed an application to voluntarily leave Bulgaria from the Busmantsi Detention Centre. Hours later, however, Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov announced he had filed a request with the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Cassation, to have Palfreeman’s parole revoked and his case reopened.
Tsatsarov received a petition from Hristo Monov, the father of Andrei Monov, alleging legal flaws in the parole decision.
Andrei was one of several youths who attacked two Roma boys that Palfreeman went to defend in 2007. Despite evidence and witnesses going missing in that trial, Palfreeman was convicted in 2009 of Andrei’s murder and the attempted murder of Anton Zahariev.
Hristo Monov is reported to be seeking close to half a million dollars in damages and wants a retrial if parole is not reversed.
Tzoneva said the case is entering “uncharted legal territory”.
Palfreeman was granted parole by the three judges because, as Tzoneva put it, he had demonstrated good character. “They overturned the verdict of the first instance court by declaring that Jock has given enough evidence that he is reformed and that his activism in prison in defence of human rights is one of the strongest attestations for that conclusion.”
Those who know anything about Palfreeman’s case know he has demonstrated exceptional courage and principle — first, by taking a stand against racism. Secondly, Palfreeman helped organise fellow prisoners into a union, to stand up to the systematic abuse and maltreatment at the hands of corrupt and brutal authorities and win rights for prisoners.
Take action to ensure Palfreeman’s safe return home. Write to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at email@example.com or the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask when he will be brought back to Australia.