WORLD REPORT 1997 - Bulgaria

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH/ HELSINKI OVERVIEW

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BULGARIA

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Human Rights Developments

Despite some progress in holding police officers accountable for violence directed at persons in custody, police misconduct remained a dominant human rights problem in Bulgaria throughout 1996. Police brutality was directed primarily at ethnic minorities, but attacks on ethnic Bulgarians and children were also commonplace.

Special police force units known as Red Berets routinely mistreat people in custody on the pretext of addressing the burgeoning problem of organized crime in Bulgaria. On April 8, 1996, the Bulgarian daily Standard (Sofia) reported that forty masked policemen raided the offices of a private firm. The police beat some employees into unconsciousness, broke windows, and destroyed equipment. The special forces executed a similar operation in late November 1995 in the Druzhba district in Sofia. Standard reported that eleven Red Berets stormed a cafe and beat several persons so severely that six victims required emergency surgery. No officer serving in the special forces has ever been charged with any offense related to such instances of police abuse.

Bulgaria made some progress in prosecuting police officers responsible for the deaths of suspects in custody. The Bulgarian daily Twenty-Four Hours (Sofia) reported on June 10, 1996, that a Sofia military court convicted six policemen of killing or helping to kill twenty-two-year-old Hristo Hristov in April 1995 after he had been arrested on suspicion of theft. The police beat Mr. Hristov to death in a police cell where his parents found him dead and handcuffed to a radiator. Four of the convicted officers received prison terms of between four and twenty years and two received suspended sentences.

Ethnically motivated violence continued to dominate the human rights landscape in Bulgaria in 1996. The Roma minority was specially targeted both by the police and by xenophobic Askinhead@ groups. On March 25, 1996, an off-duty police officer in the city of Russe used his identification documents to gain entrance to a Roma home. The officer held Paun Marinov and Veska Marinova at gunpoint and, claiming that the couples= identification documents were not in order, demanded money. The couple refused to pay whereupon the policeman beat them and other members of their family. No charges were brought against the officer. In only one known instance have suspected police officers been prosecuted for mistreatment of Roma. On March 4, 1996, two officers were tried by the Pleven Military Court and sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for three years, for severely beating two Roma teenagers in Vidin in April 1995.

For the first time in the history of Bulgaria, a Roma man who was beaten by the police sued the Bulgarian Ministry of Internal Affairs for damages. On December 15, 1995, the Regional Court in the city of Pazardzhik ordered the Ministry to pay damages to twenty-two-year-old Kiril Yosifov. Mr. Yosifov was beaten and tortured by the police during an organized raid in his neighborhood on June 29, 1992. The court awarded Mr. Yosifov damages for the bodily injury and moral degradation he suffered.

Attacks against Roma by Askinhead@ groups continued throughout 1996 and perpetrators were rarely prosecuted. Roma street children claim that they are attacked frequently and receive no assistance from the police. (See also Children of Bulgaria: Police Violence and Arbitrary Confinement in the Children=s Rights Project section). On January 4, 1996, a group of twenty Askinheads@ armed with knives and chains attacked several homeless Roma children who were sleeping at the railway station in Sofia. Eighteen-year-old Velichka Hristova Ognjanova was stabbed repeatedly. The Askinheads@ were taken to the police precinct but later were released.

Freedom of expression suffered serious setbacks during 1996 as the Bulgarian government further infringed on the autonomy of the media. On September 5, 1996, the government passed the Radio and TV Law, over President Zhelyu Zhelev=s veto, creating a National Radio and Television Council responsible for monitoring broadcasts and appointing directors to state radio and television. The law ensures that the ruling party has the power to elect the majority of council directors and gives directors power to cancel programs and suspend broadcast licenses by taking into consideration Auniversally accepted moral values@ and the Aprotection of the national and spiritual values of the Bulgarian people.@ The law also prohibits political parties, religious groups and trade unions from broadcasting their own programs, effecting a total ban on broadcasts in minority languages.

Attacks on media freedom also resulted in the firing of seven senior journalists from Bulgarian National Radio(BNR)on December 18, 1995. In November 1995, the reporters signed a declaration accusing the management of BNR of censorship. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the dismissals reflected Aan atmosphere of lawlessness and administrative arbitrariness in the national electronic media.@

In June 1996, Bulgaria=s Minister of the Interior requested that the National Assembly lift the moratorium on the death penalty, first implemented in July 1990. As a condition of admission to the Council of Europe, Bulgaria was required to impose the moratorium on executions with the expectation that the death penalty would be abolished.

The Right to Monitor

There were no reported violations of the right to monitor.

The Role of the International Community

The Council of Europe

In 1994, the Council of Europe called for the continent-wide abolition of capital punishment. At the June 1996 session of the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, the council adopted a resolution calling on member countries not to lift death penalty moratoriums. Bulgaria, now contemplating the lifting of the moratorium on executions, could face the possibility of expulsion from the council.

The European Union

In November 1995, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for Bulgaria and Romania to be removed from the list of countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the European Union. In March, Bulgarian government officials came to an understanding with the E.U. with regard to being removed from the E.U. visa Ablacklist@ in the near future.

The United States

The U.S. granted Bulgaria permanent Most Favored Nation trade status (MFN) on July 18, 1996. There was no debate in the U.S. Congress over Bulgaria=s human rights record, and the Clinton administration failed to raise concerns about human rights violations prior to the president=s signing the MFN legislation.

The State Department=s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995 contained an accurate and thorough report on the human rights situation in Bulgaria.

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