On October 7, three Bulgarian judges from the Supreme Court of Cassation decided they would need up to two months to review the Sofia Court of Appeal’s decision to grant Australian citizen Jock Palfreeman parole on September 19.
Palfreeman has served 12 years of a 20 year sentence and, under Bulgarian law, prisoners who serve half their sentence can be paroled. Palfreeman should now be back in Australia, however he is being held illegally in an immigration prison just outside Sophia.
Palfreeman told Green Left Weekly that justice is being forfeited for political power and the rule of law is being challenged by Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov, because he is a powerful and controversial figure with close ties to the government and corporate interests.
“In my opinion, Prosecutor Tsatsarov was motivated by one of two reasons, or both," Palfreeman said. "First, he wants public support, thinking my case was a 'slam dunk' public PR [public relations’] win.”
“Secondly, Tsatsarov is friends with [Hristo] Monov [the father of the boy who died during the 2007 attack on Roma boys, whom Palfreeman sought to defend] and wanted to do him a favour.”
None of the judges were signatories to a September 25 letter by 292 Bulgarian judges warning against unlawful meddling.
Prosecutor General Tsatsarov’s case centres on the allegation that the parole judges were “biased” because they had been to lectures organised by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC).
Palfreeman said the prosecution’s evidence of bias does not stack up.
“Tsatsarov claims that the BHC submitted a character reference to the first parole hearing. In fact. the organisation never did. It was given by chairperson Krassimir Kanev, in his own name. We have worked together for many years defending the rights of Bulgarians in prison.
“Tsatsarov also claims that the judges in the parole hearing had been to lectures organised by BHC and that therefore they would be biased.
“This is ridiculous because it’s more than likely that every judge and prosecutor has gone to their lectures, at least once, because the BHC is essentially the only active human rights organisation in Bulgaria.”
The government is now seeking to disband the BHC.
“Tsatsarov has based his request [that the court should revisit his case] on the fact that a judge met someone from the case, and that that is proof of bias.
“There is no legal precedent for this in Bulgaria.
“In such a small country, this would mean that no judge could do anything. They may have met or heard [BHC chairperson] Krassimir Kanev’s views. But, equally, the question has to be asked if a judge is biased for knowing, or having worked with, prosecutors or even lawyers?
“Sofia is a city of only 2 million people. The legal community is extremely small. If judges or prosecutors were prevented from working on cases because they had met someone from the case many years ago, the entire legal system would grind to a halt.”
“My incarceration is completely illegal. The Boiko Borisov government is refusing to allow me to leave to get on a plane as the parole board ordered.
“So far, it has stopped me taking five flights back to Australia.”
Borisov heads the conservative political party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, also known as GERB.
Palfreeman said it is “widely accepted” that the government is “weak” when it comes to defending the “rule of law”.
“Essentially Borisov has proven that Chief Prosecutor Tsatsarov is calling the shots.
“Probably that is due to fear. Borisov has criminal connections and it’s more than likely that he is controlled, via blackmail, by the Chief Prosecutor.”
Asked what Australians could do to support his fight for justice, Palfreeman said that they should support the anti-corruption protests being organised in Bulgaria.
He also said they should “call on the Australian government to take immediate action through the European Union to ask Bulgarian authorities to follow Bulgarian law”.
Palfreeman has an administrative ban preventing him from leaving the country, which he says the government could easily remove. “It should be done automatically after the sentence is served. But they are refusing to do it.”
He said many Bulgarians have shown him support throughout his ordeal and that support is growing.
“It's overwhelming the amount of support I've received. They have not only supported my parole, not only question if my original sentence was fair, but are also now asking why the other 12 people in the neo-Nazi group have not been arrested and punished.”
Palfreeman’s lawyer recently-released footage of the December 2007 attack on a Roma boy by the group. The footage, which had not been widely seen before, clearly shows Palfreeman defensively trying to stop an attack on the boy and on himself.
Asked whether he thinks there is enough pressure for justice to prevail, Palfreeman said the Head Prosecutor’s moves against him have “majorly backfired”.
If GERB is seeking to “take some wind out of the anti-corruption protest movement” it hasn’t worked, he said.
“They thought that it would be easy Brownie points for the upcoming election of the new Head Prosecutor”, an ally of Tsatsarov.
“But there have been large protests against the government over its nomination for the next Head Prosecutor.
“Their moves have highlighted the problem of corruption. There are many people who are really angry with how the prosecutor and government have handled my case.
“The fact that [awareness of] this corruption has reached European institutions has also been noted.”
The European Union is about to release a progress report on Bulgaria’s efforts to “fight corruption and organised crime”. Its 2018 report commended Bulgaria on progress being made. How it will view GERB’s push to amend Bulgaria’s penal code to legalise the revoking of parole decisions remains to be seen.
Palfreeman wants to return to Australia. His supporters are calling on the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene directly to bring him home.