Romani Leader Detained for Organising Electricity Protests in Bulgaria

According to the Bulgarian national daily newspaper Standard of March 13, 2003, on March 11, 2003, Mr Boris Naydenov-Maki, the Romani leader of the Bulgarian Movement for Human Rights, was arrested and placed in police custody. Mr Naydenov-Maki was reportedly being detained in accordance with Article 143(1) of the Bulgarian Criminal Code for coercion, Article 320(1) for encouraging, organising or motivating a group of people to commit a crime against society, and Article 162(1) for incitement to racial hatred. Mr Naydenov-Maki had been the organiser and leader of two Romani protests against electricity cuts in the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood in Vidin. According to Standard, at around 5:00 PM on March 12, 2003, approximately two hundred Roma occupied the local court in Vidin in protest against Mr Naydenov-Maki's detention. On June 16, 2003, the Vidin-based Romani organisation Drom informed the ERRC that following judicial proceedings at the end of May, the charge of incitement to racial hatred against Mr Naydenov-Maki was dropped due to a lack of evidence and Mr Naydenov-Maki was released from police custody. The judicial proceedings for the remaining charges against Mr Naydenov-Maki remained open as of September 18, 2003.

Earlier, on March 4, 2003, the Bulgarian national daily newspaper Monitor reported that at 8:00 PM on March 3, 2003, approximately one hundred and twenty Roma from the Nov Pat Romani neighbourhood protested in front of the nearby electrical station, about half an hour after the electrical supply to the entire neighbourhood had been cut. About fifty Roma reportedly attempted to damage the electrical station, while the remaining seventy engaged in a peaceful protest, shouting, "We want electricity!" According to Monitor, police reportedly arrived at the scene and guarded the workers who were leaving the building of the electrical station. The protest lasted until about midnight, when the electrical company reportedly restored electricity to the neighbourhood.

On February 25, 2003, Standard reported that two hundred Roma from the Nadezhda Romani neighbourhood in Sliven, central eastern Bulgaria, protested against the two-week-old decision of the National Electric Company to provide electricity to the neighbourhood only between the hours of 6:00 and 9:00 AM and 6:00 and 9:00 PM, due to outstanding debts. Roma from the neighbourhood had reportedly previously sent hundreds of letters complaining of mistakes in reading their metres but had never received an answer.

Previously, on February 7, 2003, Monitor reported that over three thousand Roma peacefully protested against the decision of the National Electric Company to switch off the electrical supply to the Stolipinovo Romani neighbourhood in Plovdiv, central Bulgaria, between the hours of 8:00 AM and 6:30 PM. Approximately thirty-five thousand Roma live in the neighbourhood. Monitor reported that Roma regularly paying their electricity bills were also affected by the measure. On February 6, 2003, the Bulgarian national daily newspaper Trud reported that schools and the kindergartens in the neighbourhood were also left without electricity. The measure was reportedly taken by the National Electric Company due to the failure of Roma in the neighbourhood to pay their bills. According to Monitor, Mr Asen Yordanov, an informal leader in the Romani community, was taken to the 6th Police Station in Plovdiv and the protesters were dispersed because the protest had not been authorised by the municipality. Mr Yordanov was later released and the protest resumed. Monitor reported that Mr Yordanov was taken to the police station again and forced to sign a statement that he would not continue to organise the protesters. As of July 23, 2003, electricity had been restored to the neighbourhood and the Roma had begun paying off their debts to the National Electric Company, according to ERRC research.

In denying Roma access to basic facilities available to the public, such as electricity, the Bulgarian state calls into question its compliance with Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions." In Article 8(b) of it's General Comment 4 on the right to adequate housing, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated, "[?] An adequate house must contain certain facilities essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition. All beneficiaries of the right to adequate housing should have sustainable access to natural and common resources, safe drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services."

(Drom, ERRC, Monitor, Standard, Trud)

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