Repression Continues In Bulgarian Prisons
Although the Ministry of Justice has been congratulating itself in 2016 for having given drinking water to prisoners. Repression against activist prisoners continues and indeed against the very prison whose case in the European Court of Human Rights forced the Ministry of Justice to improve the conditions in the first place, in case someone has made the mistake that the Bulgarian state has given toilets and drinking water to prisoners out of the goodness of their hearts.
The repression was instigated by the old guard from the former governments however it continues to this day, specifically I am referring to one of the most prolific prison activists in Bulgaria, the name of whom is on the lips of every single jurist in Bulgaria, yet as a person he is almost totally unknown. His name is Svetlomir Neshkov (Светломир Нешков) and he possibly has the most successful cases against the national prison authority (Head Directive for the Fulfillment of Punishments) of any single prisoner in Bulgaria ever.
In almost every prison where Neshkov has been housed he has met with reprisals for his immediate and valid requests and complaints to defend his rights. It is somewhat stereotypical, but nevertheless a reality, that the prison administrations would take repressive actions against any prisoner who defends their rights in Bulgaria, it is not only well known to all prisoners, but even referred to by inspectors from the Council of Europe – Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
However now the Bulgarian state is faced with a Pilot Decision from the ECHR which establishes Bulgarian prisons as fundamentally and systematically in violation of the human rights of all those who are housed there. Essentially, the very act of putting people in prison, be they criminals or not, is itself a crime.
The Ministry of Justice is eager to prove to the Council of Europe and the ECHR that they have made advances in elementary human rights that even farm animals have, for example drinking water. But the man greatly responsible for the course of events that have led to this point has been charged with a trumped up politically motivated accusation.
Neshkov has been accused by the Belene prison administration of having broken an already broken TV in June 2015. With unprecedented pressure from the prison administration the Regional Court was pushed into charging Neshkov with Article.216 – hooliganism, a form of social disruption that comes with a sentence of up to 5 years prison.
Amazingly the Regional Prosecutor initially refused to charge Neshkov, citing it as too petty and irrelevant to warrant the state’s time. The TV in question was already garbage; there are no witnesses other then the alleged “victim”, a prisoner who is well known for being a lackey of the corrupt Belene prison administration. The “victim” also can’t prove that the TV was his or that he bought it or for how much.
The Belene prison administration pressured the prisoner who is alleged to have owned the broken TV, privileges were offered and given to the prisoner for testifying. The Belene prison administration couldn’t officially appeal the Regional Prosecutor’s refusal to start criminal proceedings so through a proxy prisoner Yordan Hristov Jaferov (Йордан Христов Джаферов), the prisoner appealed the refusal of the Regional Prosecutor to the Regional Court. The Regional Court overturned the refusal and so gave the go ahead for criminal proceedings, the Prosecutor’s office appealed the overturned decision to the County Court but lost the appeal and so the decision to continue criminal proceedings was confirmed. As a form of bribe for the perjury, Yordan Jaferov had his security classification (Тип) dropped and he now enjoys his time in prison in a villa environment, a house separated from the prison without guards, and he’s allowed to work outside. If he withdrew his testimony, he would be moved back into closed prison conditions.
This is the typical reaction of corrupt prison authorities and courts, what is amazing is that usually it is through the Prosecutor’s office that the prison authorities repress activist prisoners as every prison has a permanently attached Prosecutor who becomes friends with the prison administration. But the audacity of the prison authorities is even more evident when even the Prosecutor refused to charge Neshkov. The courts are easily influenced by prison authorities as they are extremely incestuous. Furthermore, there are only two judges for criminal proceedings in the Regional Court of Levski and the judge allocated is also a judge who Neshkov has had extensive dealings with over his fight for basic human rights within the Belene prison. Indeed many of Neshkov’s cases were thrown out by the same judge only to be successful in other courts.
Neshkov requested that the case be heard in Sofia where there could be guaranteed a random selection of a judge, as the judges in Levksi Regional Court are biased towards him but his request was denied. As one of the judges had already overturned the Prosecutors refusal to prosecute, it meant that there was only one eligible judge left in Levski Regional Court. So he was allocated at “random” a judge out of a group of judges that has only one judge. Obviously this means that the court proceedings are a total façade right from the beginning.
Neshkov was already punished several times for the same accusation by the Belene prison and indeed the prosecutor and courts. He was put in an isolation punishment cell, stopped from work and he even had his sentence increased when time off accrued by working was annulled by the same court who is currently looking at his case now. The time off his sentence was annulled as a form of arbitrary punishment directly connected to the breaking of the already broken TV. If convicted now for hooliganism, it will be in effect his 3rd punishment for a violation that he didn’t even commit; all because he was relentless in defending his rights and the rights of those around him in Belene and other prisons around Bulgaria.
Even if Neshkov is given a light sentence, a sentence given to a prisoner whilst they are already serving a sentence has very serious results and prevents any chance of early release and severely impacts a prisoner’s chances at gaining other privileges such as day releases or work.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association demands that the state investigates the corrupt practices of the Belen prison administration and the Levski Regional court, which is actually a single judge hearing the cases for Neshkov. If the Bulgarian state has no fear that the case is valid, then the state should not fear the case being heard in Sofia Regional Court.
We demand that the Ministry of Justice investigate the bribes paid to the prisoner in the way of privileges for making the false statements against Neshkov.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association demands that the trumped up charges against Svetlomir Neshkov are dropped.
We request help from the public, we believe that someone who has done so much for the human rights of prisoners in Bulgaria should not be left alone in his time of need, especially as the repression against him is a direct act of revenge for his activism against the corrupt and backward prison administrations.
Please write to the Minister of Justice:
Ekaterina Zaharieva, Minister of justice of Republic of Bulgaria
Slavyanska 1 Street
Jock Palfreeman, Chairman of BPRA
General Request For Donations To The "Valio Fund"
I am typing a letter to you all as my hand hurts from hand writing so much and quite frankly no one can read my writing (including myself) so please excuse the non-personalised nature of this letter.
The Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association BPRA (officially) was in May 2015 invited to the Ministry of Justice Workgroup on penitentiary reforms. That means that the BPRA has an equal say and vote with all the other members of the Workgroup who are comprised of judges, prosecutors and prison head who are representing their respective institutions.
It stands to reason that the BPRA didn’t have confidence in the system reforming itself even if it wanted to. The judges and prosecutors are on the outside and have absolutely no comprehension of the problems facing Bulgarian prisons and the prison administrations are blatantly opposed to reforms!
Originally the BPRA wasn’t invited to the Workgroup, so we organised a mass petition of about 300 prisoners from around prisons and submitted it to both the Ministry of Justice and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture who is monitoring the reform process. In the petition we explained that without the BPRA to voice the prisoners’ concerns the reform Workgroup was set up to fail. Gathering signatures is extremely difficult in Bulgarian prisons as usually the prison authority will call every single prisoner who has signed a petition and threaten and punish them. The organisers are of course targeted for the worse treatment to act as a deterrent to others. As usually one of our petitions was stolen by a guard but to the credit of the new prison director the petition was later returned. But really this time it was not so difficult to get so many signatures as prisoners were simply put, fed up with everything. The level of violence from guards and corruption from the prison administrations had hit an all time high in 2014 to the point where the prisons were stopping drinking, washing and toilet water (all water) during the hot summer nights creating a pandemic not to mention unbearable conditions in the heat.
The Ministry recognized the difficulties in gathering the signatures and so invited the BPRA to propose a representative. Lucky for us an extremely knowledgeable prisoner had just been granted a Presidential pardon in March! Valentine Ivanov (Valio) had served 22 years prison on a life sentence. For 20 of those years he served in complete isolation where prisoners are alone for 22.5 hours a day, with no work, sport, education or activities. But Valio didn’t waste his time in prison and instead he self educated himself on all laws, regulations and procedures relating to Bulgarian prison institutions, as well as a general understanding of most Bulgarian laws. It would be easy to say that he is the single most knowledgeable person in Bulgaria on laws relating to prisons without any formal education.
We would very much like to employ Valio fulltime and although he deserves more, we are being realistic and Valio has agreed to work for the same pay as his labouring job, 12€ a day. Also we can not employ Valio until we are sure that we can guarantee a full years pay, as jobs are hard to find in Bulgaria (not to mention for ex prisoners) and so it wouldn’t be fair to have Valio quit his labouring job only to be made redundant in his work for the BPRA. This means the BPRA needs to raise the following amounts:
6000 leva for Valio’s pay
2400 leva for taxes, pension and health insurance
Roughly it comes to 4307€ in total.
We have raised 500€ already from XminY whose mission statement reads as follows
“XminY believes in the power of people to be the start of change themselves. Every great social transformation starts with brave individuals who take the first steps along the road to change. These are ordinary people who stand up in their communities, encourage bystanders and work together with them in the struggle for a fair, just, sustainable and tolerant world.”
Although this is XminY’s statement I think it is an absolutely appropriate description of the BPRA! So thanx XminY for giving us a good start on the “Valio Fund”. Also XminY said that if we wanted we could display their logo on the project we used their money for. In this respect I think it is only fair that we tattoo Valio’s face with the XminY logo! Failing to tattoo Valio’s face we will think of an alternative J
So I’ve asked in the past for donations and we raised over 6000€! In one year! So thank you to all of you receiving this letter who already donated something! Most of the money we spent was used contracting lawyers to defend the human rights of asylum seekers and prisoners. Some illegally detained and others tortured by guards. Without the BPRA these prisoners (I consider those detained for immigration reasons also prisoners) would not have had legal representation and some would still be illegally held in prisons or continuously beaten and intimidated to stay quiet about torture. When the state knows there is a lawyer in your corner the stakes change.
However now I am putting out a call! Before the money we raised was used as we needed it and so there wasn’t really an urgency. However now we have a set specific goal and target that we need to meet relatively soon so that we can free Valio from his job so that he can work for us fulltime to have a maximum impact on the penitentiary reforms currently in the Ministry that will then be submitted to parliament for consideration.
Please do whatever you can to collect money for us, fundraisers, gigs or even just a whip around the with magic hat! J
Our bank details are:
Donation for Bulgarian Prisoners' Rehabilitation Association
Saint George Office
26 Alexander Stamboliski Boulevard
IBAN: BG29 Texi 95451003928100
BIC: Texi BGSF
(Please note the “TEXI” is the letter ‘i’ not the number ‘1')
Please check out our facebook page, just do a search on facebook for Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association and it is easy to find. We are working on getting a proper website but it is proving to be logistically difficult for us prisoners with basically 1 volunteer in Sofia who knows something about computers and web design! So you can also contact us for the moment through the facebook page.
Alternatively (but not preferably) you can email at:
There is also our blog: https://bulgarianprisonersassociation.wordpress.com/
If you have upcoming actions planned, please spare a thought for our fund raising goal and ask those around you to contribute or to organise a way of raising money.
We are a legally registered NGO and as such we are officially reformist.
We have already effected extremely important changes in the draft laws, especially in regards to the reform of the parole system. It is on the back of this success that we need to increase our input into the legislative changes.
I have not spoken much about who we are here, because there is already enough information online. But in short we are a registered NGO Association of ONLY current and ex-prisoner. The idea being that without interference from people who are not or have not been prisoners our goals or means of achieving them will not be distorted by outside interference from people who could have alternative or contradictory ideas. This means that the BPRA couldn’t get more grassroots if it tried to.
Our two main goals are:
1. Effect legislative reforms
2. Defend the rights of prisoners
The BPRA is the first of its kind in Bulgaria and possibly the world, as although there are prisoners’ organisations they are as far as I know not registered organisations and/or they’re mixed with non-prisoner members.
We want the BPRA to be of such a scale that whenever a prisoner is tortured, the prisoner will be able to contact the BPRA who will send inspectors and lawyers immediately. For too long the guards and administrations in Bulgarian prisons had free reign to torture and torment who they wanted to. This is slowly changing as the BPRA grows in confidence and experience (and funds for legal defence) and the prison administrations are starting to realise that they can no longer target prisoners who are too poor to afford lawyers.
Not race, financial status or education will be green lights to guards and administrations to target prisoners for abuse as the BPRA will have their backs! In this regard it is true that those who are openly members of the BPRA and who are openly active and supporting the BPRA have been targeted for their solidarity actions. But there is rarely significant social progress without significant risk and we regularly risk our physical health/life as well as our possibilities for freedom.
Please people, help us help ourselves! And help us reach our target budget.
Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association
Valio is currently volunteering his time as the BPRA representative to the Workgroup and at information meetings and public forums on penitentiary reforms and helping prisoners with legal aid. But in order to put bread on the table Valio obviously must work a paying job. Currently he is labouring for 12€ a day (a work day can be 12 hours as there is little to no workers’ rights) and the problem with that is that the BPRA really needs Valio to work on penitentiary reforms fulltime. The reforms needed are so comprehensive that the workload is overwhelming for people who are working on them fulltime, let alone for someone fitting the reform work around a labouring job.
Red & Black BPRA Bandana
New Bulgarian Prisoners' Association fundraiser red & black bandana is available from us for £5 p+p - all profits to the BPRA.
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for details
New Downloadable Jock Palfreeman Poster
Click on the image to download a poster pdf
A Visit To See Jock
A visit to see Jock Palfreeman at Sofia Central Prison usually means the normal bureaucracy i.e. waiting 2-3 hours, body searches and food stuff weighed, checked and an item or two confiscated. Once inside visiting is conducted on a telephone through a glass and wire barrier and only lasts 45 minute.
Summer 2014 was a little different. We turned up to the prison early morning with usual bags of food, as prisoners diets have to be supplemented due to lack of nutrition in the prison’s food. After giving our passports in at admin we sat down for the usual long wait. A moment later a couple jumped out of chauffeur driven car and walked into the reception. Noticing that they looked a little uncertain about the procedure and also releasing pretty quickly that they were Australian and also visiting Jock we went to help.
The couple introduced themselves as Rachel and Bryan, we only released a little later that they were the both famous actors. Rachel Ward is famous for the Thorn Birds, a 1980’s TV series that was massive in Bulgaria, and Bryan Brown from such Hollywood movies as Cocktail and Australia. Within moments we were having our food checked in and waltzed through the prison gates like heads of state and into the governor’s office, all the time with an English/Bulgaria interpreter. We were introduced to the governor, who seemed to be very excited! Photographs were taken, not of us obviously. Coffee, drinks and biscuits were brought in! We were out of our comfort zone!
Within 10 minutes the governor left and Jock came in. He looked a little taken back for a moment, hugs and handshakes were exchanged. We sat down and Jock explained his position about being banged up for the next 20 years. Both actors explained that they wanted to use their influence both in Bulgaria and Australia to get Jock back to Australia to serve his sentence. Rachel Ward asked on several occasions if there was anything she could do to help, on one occasion Jock said, ‘Have you got a helicopter’. Rachel Ward was appearing on a Bulgaria TV show the next day and said she was going mention his case. Jock advised her against this as Jock doesn’t have the best reputation in Bulgaria due to the bias way the incident was reported in the Bulgaria media. Both seemed genuinely concerned for Jock’s situation. Bryan saying on the way out that he would use his influence to see what he could do.
The visit lasted 2 hours and Jock did most of the talking as he is always at pains to explain his situation clearly. The whole visit was a very different experience for us and it was good to see Jock in person without barriers. Who knows maybe next time Tom Cruise will visit?
Twenty-one-year old Australian Jock Palfreeman started his travels around Europe in early 2006. Having visited numerous countries and stayed in a small town an hour drive from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, living and working with his friends, he returned to visit them at the end of December 2007 after traveling to the UK.
On a night out with these friends that December, he witnessed a group of 16 football hooligans associated with various fascist groups attack two Roma (gypsy) boys, and he stepped in to defend them. He tried to keep them away by waving a knife at them, but they attacked him anyway, not only with fists and punches but also by throwing blocks of concrete at him. Jock defended himself with the knife. As a result of the fight, one of the attackers, Andrei Monov, died and another was seriously injured.
The dead man turned out to be from a well known Bulgarian family with political connections and, after 2 long years of procedurally dubious trial with a clear political flavour, Jock was found guilty of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and given a 375 000 Australian dollar fine. The case was built solely on the statements taken from the nazis, who claimed that Jock randomly attacked the group, chasing them with the intent to kill someone; whilst key witnesses and other possible witnesses were never interviewed and the CCTV footage from the scene mysteriously went missing.
After numerous petitions submitted to the court by the defence, only one was accepted and this was merely to re-question five of the witnesses to explain why they all had initially stated that the fight between the group and the Roma boys actually taken place, but had then denied ever having said this. Despite the court now accepting that the fight between the group and Roma boys had actually taken place, the Appeal court upheld the original sentence.
It is worth mentioning that despite the Bulgarian authorities trying to portray Jock's assailants as “normal students”, they had been members of, or had connections to, far right groups in Bulgaria. One of these “normal students”, Emil Alexiev, is a member of Bulgarian neo-Nazi group National Resistance and in 2010 had been arrested for taking part in a brutal attack against refugee rights activists on a tram, which left a number of them with very serious injuries.
In prison Jock never surrendered and quickly became a thorn in the side of the authorities, helping fellow prisoners by teaching English and acting as a jailhouse lawyer, as well as highlighting the authorities’ abuses and corruption. Additionally, he founded the Bulgarian Prisoners Association (BPA), the first official organisation to fight for rights of prisoners in Bulgaria.
Due to Jock’s activist work as chairman of the BPA, helping fellow prisoners and giving legal advice, Jock has suffered numerous incidents of repression at the hands of prison authorities, such as frequent cell searches, periods in isolation, beatings, problems with receiving books and access to his studies.
On January 13, 2013, Jock went on hunger strike and, after 30 days of drinking only watery drinks and losing 20 kg, he managed finally to get an official answer to the various requests that he had submitted to the prison authorities in connection with his mistreatment, and which had all been ignored, and he continues fighting his corner by the legal means open to him.
Over a year ago the Australian government sent a request for Jock’s transfer to an Australian prison, which can only happen if Jock’s friends and family pay the price that the Bulgarian court ordered to be paid in compensation to his victims and their families. Jock has therefore been forced to conclude that he is currently being held for ransom by the Bulgarians judicial system.
Jock’s family is currently collecting the necessary funds and you can donate by visiting:
You can visit BPA website at: https://bulgarianprisonersassociation.wordpress.com/
Freedom For Jock Palfreeman FB group: www.facebook.com/groups/123586691003205/
some archive info on support actions, jock's letters etc: http://anarchistsolidarity.wordpress.com/category/jock-palfreeman/
good mainstream book about Jock by Belinda Hawkins: http://everyparentsnightmare.com/
At the same time we need to keep spreading information about Jock's case as wide as possible and we need to show Jock our solidarity, so he knows he is not alone and authorities know it as well.
You can write to Jock at:
Sofia Central Prison,
21 General Stoletov Boulevard,
Sofia 1309, BULGARIA
Solidarity Letter From Joel Almgren*
Instead of commenting on the fairy tales that the tabloids have written about me the last time I would like to take the opportunity to make you aware of something else.
Jock Palfreeman is an Australian citizen who is doing time in a prison in Bulgaria, sentenced for to 20 years for murder in defence of two Roma boys from a group of nazi Levski supporters. In Sweden one normally gets parole after having served 2/3 of your sentence, but this is not the reality in Bulgaria where you serve the entire sentence. Let us say that in Sweden you attack a demonstration with everyone from children in baby strollers to oldies with walking frames. For that you get a sentence of 6 months, which in Sweden means that you are free in 4 months [Joel here refers to the Nazi attack in Kärrtorp, were the Nazis got a 6 months sentences each, the leader of neo-Nazi Swedish Resistance Movement (Svenska Motståndsrörelsen) in Stockholm got a 8 month sentence]. But, if in Bulgaria you help two children when they are being attacked by a group of Nazis, you get instead a sentence of 20 years, you also serve all that time in prison.
Inside the Sofia Central Prison, I have started Bulgaria's first prison union - the Bulgarian Prisoners' Association. The prison union helps the prisoners financially as well as helping to fill in forms and to write appeals. This is because 80% of the prisoners in the prison cannot read or write, and many of them do not have any economic resources. That means if you are put in isolation or get beaten up by the prison guards, you are not able to report it or have enough money to hire an attorney. Additionally, in Bulgaria, as in many other places in Europe, in addition to the people who have been found guilty of crimes who are put in prison, those who have been forced to flee wars in the home countries, becoming clandestine migrants, are locked up in prison too and have even fewer resources than the Bulgarian prisoners.
[*Swedish anti-fascist currently on remand for defending an anti-racist demonstration in Kärrtorp, near Stockholm, from a vicious attack by the neo-Nazi group Swedish National Resistance.]
[by letter 24/06/14]