Asylum seekers assaulted in Sofia Central Prison

Saturday, July 26, 2014
The prison in Sofia where the assaults took place.

Jock Palfreeman, a young Australian imprisoned in Bulgaria, wrote this open letter on July 9.


On July 6 at 8.30am, a guard, Peter Petrov, performed the morning roll call. He entered cell 11 and shouted in Bulgarian, a language no one present understood. As the roll call finished for that cell he assaulted a mentally ill man from behind for not moving fast enough.

The mentally ill man is about 45 kilograms, about 55 years old and a citizen of the African nation of Comoros. The man retaliated and slapped the guard back. Petrov came at the Comoran again and he took a chair to keep the guard away from him.

Three other guards came and only saw the Comoran man with the chair and so they beat him too. Petrov then ran out of the cell, locked all the cell doors and called for “assistance”. Forty guards came from two work shifts, from the Saturday evening shift and the incoming Sunday day shift, as now shifts are 12 hours.

The forty guards summarily beat everyone in the cell — the Comoran man, four Afghanis, one Pakistani, one Dutch man and an Algerian. They were not resisting in any way and most of the wounds inflicted by the guards are on their backs as they were on the ground trying to cover their faces.

The Comoran man was most badly beaten, with a cut face, bleeding eye, bleeding nose, cut and swollen lips and cuts and swelling to his head. His body was covered all over in welts from the batons. The Pakistani too had welts and pink bruises as did the others in perfect shapes of batons, the Pakistani received a cut head and several of the Afghanis had black and bleeding eyes as well as welts on their backs and forearm.

The seven men were beaten with batons and boots; they were stomped on and thrown into walls and the ground.

The beating continued for about 20 to 30 minutes. The guards then indiscriminately started to break furniture used by prisoners for playing cards in the corridor.

After the bulk of the guards left, the guards called in two prisoners. Together with the guards they wrote witness statements or “explanations” for the victims and intimidated the victims to sign the statements.

The victims were told if they complained they would get extra prison sentences and that the guards would beat them again. In these “witness statements”, it says the Comoran man attacked the guard unprovoked and the guard had to defend himself.

A deal was struck this would be the official version that the two prisoners would testify to but also help maintain through intimidation of victims.

Only the Comoran man was allowed to see a doctor. As the official version of events did not include the other seven victims as having been assaulted they were not permitted to see a doctor for the entirety of Sunday. At 8.30pm the guards changed shifts and again the new guards would not allow the other six victims to see the duty doctor.

On the same day as the assault the victims came to me as the chairman of the Bulgarian Prisoners' Association and as a known human rights activist and asked me for help. I immediately called the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee to inform their chairman, Krassimir Kanev, of the assault and he supplied valuable legal advice as to how to proceed.

With prisoners acting as translators, the victims wrote real statements testifying the details of the assault free of intimidation by the prison's auxiliary bullies. We brought many prisoners together and discussed how to proceed, many prisoners supported the victims and we promised to support the victims if any prisoner working for the prison administration tried to intimidate them or use physical violence to silence them.

The next day, members of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee came to meet with the victims, they took their statements and conveyed an official complaint to the prosecutor’s office.

The members of the Helsinki Committee then personally escorted the victims to the prison infirmary and supervised as medical injury reports were written, although copies of the medical reports were not made or given to the victims or their representatives.

Petrov had been informed of my complaint against him after he previously assaulted me by kicking me with his boots, hitting me with a large metal key, pushing and pulling me in an attempt to provoke physical confrontation.

I realised after he assaulted me on two separate occasions that the assaults would continue and only get worse. So I sent a complaint to the director of the prison, Peter Krester, and a request to have this violent and dangerous guard moved from our block.

No measures were taken and Petrov four days later subsequently attacked the Comoran man and instigated the mass assault on the other seven victims.

Petrov was moved to a different part of the prison on July 10.

Representatives from the Ombudsman's office entered the prison on July 14 to conduct an investigation into the mass assault. They met with the victims and witnesses and briefly with myself.

The vice-minister of justice, responsible specifically for the running of prisons, met with the victims of the mass assault on July 16. There are concerns about his personal connections with one of the men who signed the eye-witness statement.

The state prosecutor met with the victims on July 17 to collect their statements from them personally.

The continued pressure and intimidation on the victims to give false testimonies is a continuing concern, not to mention their attempt to also intimidate me into not showing solidarity to the victims. It is just another example of mafia criminals working with the state apparatus of oppression.

The prison allows these bullies to continue their drug businesses within the prison, the prison staff take a cut and in exchange it is in their interest to protect the prison administration and guards as they provide the protection for their business.

There can never be any compromise with violators of human rights and mafia. When injustice becomes law resistance becomes duty.

[Visit Free Jock for more information.]

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From GLW issue 1018