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.
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.