Asylum-seekers continued to be detained for months and even years, and were denied protection. Discrimination against minorities persisted. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people continued to experience violence and intolerance. Reports of ill-treatment by law enforcement officials were received throughout the year.
The European Commission’s progress report in July urged Bulgaria to increase efforts to combat corruption and criminality, following the country’s accession to the EU. In the wake of a previous report by the anti-fraud EU agency OLAF, the Commission condemned the misuse of EU funds and adopted sanctions against Bulgaria.
Asylum-seekers and migrants
Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants continued to be detained for months and even years awaiting expulsion. National NGOs continued to express concern that such detentions had become routine practice, contravening legislation that such a measure should be used only as a last resort.
"...150 peaceful marchers faced violence from counter-demonstrators who threw stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails."
In April, Iraqi asylum-seekers set light to furniture in the Special Centre for the Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners (SCTAF) in Busmantsi, near the capital, Sofia, in protest against a change of policy decreasing the level of protection in Bulgaria for Iraqi asylum-seekers. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, had previously raised concerns about this change, which the authorities defended by alleging lack of space in the reception centres. The NGO Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) filed appeals in the courts against more than 40 decisions to reject applications between December 2007 and March 2008.
- Said Kadzoev, a Russian national of Chechen origin, continued to face forcible return to the Russian Federation where he would be at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment. He had been held in detention in the SCTAF in Busmantsi since 1 November 2006, and in solitary confinement for prolonged periods with no explanation from the authorities. The Head of the Migration Directorate of Bulgaria announced in May that a third safe country would be sought for Said Kadzoev’s deportation. In October a complaint was filed with the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the rejection of his asylum claim, his administrative detention for more than two years and his arbitrary placement in solitary confinement for excessive periods, compounded by alleged physical ill-treatment during detention, constituted a violation of his rights.
Discrimination – minorities
The Romani minority continued to face discrimination at the hands of public officials and private individuals. The BHC reported cases of discrimination in access to housing, including forced evictions, and access to public services.
In June, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that despite government efforts to ensure equal enjoyment of rights for Romani children such as through the National Action Plan on the Decade of Roma Inclusion, concerns remained about the negative attitudes and prejudices displayed towards Roma by the general population, as well as about the overall situation of children of minorities, particularly Roma. The Committee especially highlighted discrimination and disparities such as segregation in education, and unequal access to health care, housing, employment and an adequate standard of living.
In May, representatives of the OMO Ilinden PIRIN party, which represents the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, reported on a campaign of harassment and intimidation by police officers against supporters of a new application for its registration. According to the party’s allegations, police officers summoned supporters for interrogation at police stations without a written order and questioned them about the party. Its registration had been denied three times in 2007 despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 and several calls by the EU.
In April, the Sofia City Court ruled that Volen Siderov, leader of the far-right party Ataka (Attack), was guilty of using hostile and discriminatory language against the ethnic Turkish minority and of creating an atmosphere of animosity towards them. He was threatened with a fine if he ignored the ruling that he should stop using such language.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
In June, the first LGBT Pride event to be held in Bulgaria was organized in Sofia by Gemini, a Bulgarian organization working for the rights of LGBT people. Increased intimidation of LGBT people in Bulgaria was reported in the run-up to the event, which was opposed by some religious authorities and far-right groups. Some 150 peaceful marchers faced violence from counter-demonstrators who threw stones, bottles and Molotov cocktails. More than 60 people were arrested by the police. The Prime Minister, although acknowledging the right to demonstrate peacefully, expressed his personal opposition to the march.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In February, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) issued a report on its visit to Bulgaria in September 2006 stating that efforts should be increased to combat ill-treatment of detainees and to improve detention facilities.
In April, the BHC denounced the non-compliance with international standards of legislation covering the use of firearms by law enforcement officials. The BHC also reported on cases of ill-treatment by police officials, in particular towards Roma, at the time of arrest or during detention. These were often not adequately investigated.
- On 2 October, Sofia’s Military Court sentenced five police officers to a total of 82 years’ imprisonment after convicting them of beating 38-year-old Angel Dimitrov to death in 2005. His death was initially explained by the police as the result of a heart attack, but a second autopsy demanded by relatives showed that he had died from blows to the head. An appeal against the decision, to be reviewed by the Military Court of Appeals, was pending at the end of the year. Sofia’s Military Court had previously issued a sentence against the five police officers in November 2007, but the decision was repealed by the Military Court of Appeals.
Ill-treatment in custody
In February the CPT reported overcrowding and verbal abuse against inmates in prison facilities visited in 2006, as well as allegations of physical ill-treatment by prison staff.
The BHC also reported that conditions in many prisons continued to be below those required by international standards.
- On 6 March, Bulgaria was found by the European Court of Human Rights to be in violation of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Nikolai Kirilov Gavazov, a prisoner accused of rape, spent nearly two years on remand in a tiny, windowless cell in Pazardjik prison, central Bulgaria. The Court also found that the seven-year length of the court case was excessive.
Mental health institutions
In February the CPT, following visits to mental health and social care institutions in 2006, raised serious concerns about admission procedures, ill-treatment and living conditions at the institutions visited.
The CPT highlighted the lack of staff, staff training and resources in such institutions, conditions which had led to violent incidents, limited therapeutic options and insufficient provision of rehabilitation programmes. Despite recommendations by the CPT in 2002 that attention be given to improving living conditions, these remained inadequate.
In February, following a BBC television documentary highlighting extremely poor conditions at the Mogilino childcare institution, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy announced that this and another six similar institutions would be closed down.
Amnesty International reportsBulgaria: Fear of forcible return/fear of torture or ill-treatment – Said Kadzoev (18 April 2008)
Bulgaria: First Sofia Pride needs adequate protection (27 June 2008)