Bulgarian Police and Forest Rangers Shoot and Kill Roma

29 October 2003

On March 26, 2003, at approximately 7:30 PM, Mr Angel Simeonov, a 28-year-old Romani man, sustained a fatal gunshot wound in the Rido forest near Samokov in central western Bulgaria, according to the Bulgarian national daily newspaper Trud of March 28, 2003. Mr Simeonov was reportedly shot while illegally taking wood for heating. On June 16, 2003, the Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Project (HRP) informed the ERRC that no charges had been brought in connection with Mr Simeonov's death.

In another case, according to ERRC field research, on March 16, 2003, at approximately 2:00 PM, a guard from a company named Marcy shot Ivan Anastasiev Ralev, an 8-year-old Romani boy, in the town of Burgas on the coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria. According to Mr Zheko Shishkov, a Romani man who lives nearby, he ran to the scene after hearing a gunshot fired. Mr Shishkov reportedly saw Ivan lying on the ground with a gunshot wound that apparently entered through the boy's left arm and exited at his right armpit. Ivan had reportedly attempted to jump over the fence into a neighbouring yard that is shared by Marcy and a furniture making company, in order to collect scrap wood for heating in the home where he lived with his mother. A Romani man from the area, who refused to give his name, witnessed the event and informed the ERRC that, as Ivan was jumping over the fence, a guard from Marcy shot him. Mr Shishkov told the ERRC that neighbours brought Ivan immediately to a nearby hospital where, as of the date of the ERRC visit, he was still being treated for injuries resulting from the gunshot wound. The ERRC attempted to speak with Ivan and his mother, Ms Anastasia Stoyanova Raleva, at the hospital, but was unable to enter the hospital due to quarantine. According to the HRP, as of May 10, 2003, Ivan had been released from hospital, but had not been issued a medical certificate. On June 16, 2003, the HRP informed the ERRC that Ms Raleva had refused to file a complaint with the police as she and her son live beside the company and she was afraid of possible repercussions.

A day earlier, on March 15, 2003, three Romani men - 43-year-old Mr Strahil Nikolov, 31-year-old Mr Sergey Marinov and Mr Licho Toshev, - sustained gunshot wounds and several others were brutally beaten by approximately ten police officers and forest rangers in the forest near Lukovit in northern Bulgaria, according to information provided to the ERRC by the HRP. According to the HRP, which is providing legal representation to the victims, on March 15, 2003, at around 4:00 PM, Mr Yulian Ablenov, Mr Krassimir Minchev and Mr Plamen Minchev - all Romani men from Lukovit - were collecting wood for heating in the forested area called the "Oreshki trap" in the vicinity of Lukovit. Two police officers and between seven and eight forest rangers, including the local chief of the National Forestry Office, reportedly approached the three men. Mr P. Minchev managed to escape to the nearby Romani settlement on his cart, but the officers and forest rangers stopped Mr Ablenov and Mr K. Minchev. The HRP reported that the officers forced Mr Ablenov and Mr K. Minchev to get off the carts and one of the officers then hit Mr K. Minchev with the butt of his gun, causing him to fall to the ground unconscious. After some time, Mr K. Minchev regained consciousness. According to Mr K. Minchev's testimony given to the HRP, he was placed in handcuffs and the two officers and one of the forest rangers began to beat him. At the same time, the other forest rangers forced Mr Ablenov, who witnessed the physical abuse of Mr K. Minchev, to unload the wood from their carts and ordered him to dig two "graves". The HRP informed the ERRC that Mr Ablenov witnessed the officers pour water on Mr K. Minchev and torture him with electric prods. When Mr Ablenov finished digging the holes, two forester rangers and one police officer proceeded to beat him. In the meantime, the remaining forest rangers pushed Mr Ablenov's and Mr K. Minchev's carts into a fire that they had started, then violently pushed Mr K. Minchev towards the fire in an apparent attempt to burn him, according to the HRP. According to testimony given to the HRP by Mr Ablenov and Mr K. Minchev, at around 5:30 PM, two other Romani men from Lukovit, Mr Velko Radev and Mr Sergey Marinov, arrived at the scene in a car, and the officers left them. The officers and forest rangers reportedly shouted, "Let's batter the Gypsies that are coming" as they approached the car. Mr Ablenov and Mr K. Minchev then heard gunshots fired. Mr Radev and Mr Marinov informed the HRP that when they stopped their car, the officers and forest rangers hit the car's windshield with truncheons and guns, breaking it. They then opened one of the car doors and pulled Mr Marinov out. Frightened, Mr Radev reportedly backed the car up and drove away. The officers and forest rangers proceeded to severely beat Mr Marinov, breaking his nose, and shot him in the shoulder with a rubber bullet. At about 6:00 PM, two other Romani men from Lukovit, Mr Strahil Nikolov and Mr Licho Toshev, entered the area in another car. The HRP informed the ERRC that, according to their testimony, before Mr Nikolov and Mr Toshev had even stopped their car, the officers and forest rangers began shooting at them. Mr Nikolov sustained gunshot wounds on his back and his arm and Mr Toshev was shot from behind on armpit. Mr Nikolov and Mr Toshev were then pulled out from the car, according to the HRP, and brutally assaulted by the officers and the forest rangers. On the same date, Mr Ablenov, Mr K. Minchev, Mr Nikolov, Mr Toshev and Mr Marinov received medical treatment for their injuries at the hospital in Lukovit.

On March 18, 2003, the Bulgarian national daily newspaper Trud reported that two officers and three forester rangers sustained injuries during the incident. The HRP filed a complaint with the Pleven Military Prosecutor's Office on behalf of Mr Ablenov, Mr K. Minchev, Mr Nikolov, Mr Toshev and Mr Marinov. Following an investigation, the prosecutor refused to initiate legal action. In August 2003, the HRP filed a complaint against the decision ofd the local prosecutor with the Lovetch Regional Prosecutor's Office. As of September 18, 2003, there had been no response to the HRP's complaint.

In a similar case, at around 2:00 PM on February 24, 2003, a forest ranger, Mr I.S., shot Mr Severin Sabev Aleksandrov, a 25-year-old Romani man, in a forest near Vetovo in northern Bulgaria, according to Mr Aleksandrov's testimony given to the ERRC on March 6, 2003. According to Mr Aleksandrov, on the afternoon in question, he went to the forest on his horse-drawn cart without an axe, in order to gather brushwood for heating. On the way to the forest, Mr Aleksandrov met two Romani men, Mr Aldin Anchev and Mr Ventsislav Shabanov, both 28-years-old, leaving the forest with two full carts of wood. Mr Aleksandrov gathered some brushwood then got back on his cart to return home. Mr Aleksandrov stated that he then heard a gunshot and felt a horrible pain on the left side of his waist. Mr Aleksandrov turned and saw the forest ranger, Mr I.S., who reportedly proceeded to fire his gun three or four more times. Mr Aleksandrov then drove his cart towards home. According to Mr Aleksandrov, he collapsed in his cart from the pain and his horse followed the carts of Mr Anchev and Mr Shabanov which were not far ahead. According to 48-year-old Mr Sabi Aleksandrov, Mr Aleksandrov's father, Mr Aleksandrov was eventually taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital in Ruse where he was operated on. The bullet reportedly created a hole in Mr Aleksandrov's large intestine about fifteen to twenty centimetres long. Mr Aleksandrov was treated in hospital for two weeks and reportedly underwent a second operation one month after the first operation.

Mr Sabi Aleksandrov informed the ERRC that he had been told by Mr Hyusein Sherif, a Romani man employed at a local wood cutting firm, that he had seen Mr I.S. drinking alcohol prior to the time of the shooting. Mr Sabi Aleksandrov also reported that Mr I.S. saw how seriously wounded his son was but did not help to transport him to the hospital even though he had a car. Instead, he went to the police station to inform the police of what had happened. Mr Beysin Hassan, deputy mayor of Vetovo, stated to the ERRC that "People steal and they must be punished". According to Mayor Hassan, Mr I.S. was just doing his job. On March 12, 2003, the ERRC took over legal defence in the case, with the assistance of local lawyer Mr Petko Ivanov Ahmakov, who filed a complaint with the Prosecutor's Office. Mr Aleksandrov recuperated from the gunshot wound but was forced to stay in bed. As of September 23, 2003, the investigation into the case was ongoing.

Previously, on February 15, 2003, Mr Shteryo Angelov, a 44-year-old Romani man, was brutally beaten and his dog was fatally shot by approximately five forest rangers in the forest near Isperih in northeastern Bulgaria, according to his testimony to the ERRC on March 7, 2003. According to Mr Angelov, he was leaving the forest with his 17-year-old son and his 23-year-old nephew, Mr Milen Sabkov Mladenov, after having cut some wood for heating when they were stopped by the forest rangers, one of whom was holding a gun. Mr Angelov reported that the three tried to escape but stopped when they heard a gunshot fired by one of the forest rangers. The forest ranger reportedly fired his gun a second time, killing Mr Angelov's dog. Mr Mladenov testified to the ERRC that, at this point, he ran away because he was afraid. Mr Angelov was then struck hard in the head with a truncheon and fell to the ground, where he sustained another blow to the head. Mr Angelov reportedly lost consciousness for a couple of minutes and when he awoke, he was in the backseat of the forest rangers' vehicle. Approximately three forest rangers brought Mr Angelov to the hospital in Isperih, where doctors attempted to stitch up a wound on Mr Angelov's head. Mr Angelov, however, reportedly refused this treatment and went home. Later that evening, Mr Angelov testified, about ten forest rangers visited him at home to check his condition because they were afraid that he might file a complaint against them. Mr Angelov stated that he tried to hit one of the forest rangers out of anger, but instead fell to the ground. Mr Angelov was reportedly taken to the hospital again, where he received medical treatment for ten days. As of August 4, 2003, the ERRC was unaware of further developments in the case.

Earlier, at around 2:00 PM on February 4, 2003, forest rangers shot Emil Tinkov, a 17-year-old Romani boy, in the shoulder as he was leaving the Kumanitsa forest near Krivodol in northwestern Bulgaria with his brother, Mr Tsvetan Yurev Kirilov, a 23-year-old Romani man, and his neighbour, Mr Assen Iliev Benev, a 32-year-old Romani man, after having illegally cut wood for heating, according to ERRC research. On February 10, 2003, Mr Benev testified to the ERRC that as the three were leaving the forest, they were stopped by two forest rangers, one of whom Mr Benev knew as "Toshko". Mr Benev told the ERRC that both forest rangers had their guns drawn. Afraid, the three Roma ran back into the forest and, without warning, the forest rangers opened fire, according to Mr Benev. Mr Benev, who was separated from Emil Tinkov and Tsvetan Kirilov, reportedly ran home. Mr Benev told the ERRC that the police arrived at his home almost immediately afterwards and took his testimony. The ERRC visited the hospital in Vratsa to interview Emil Tinkov, but was prevented from doing so by doctors at the hospital. On February 10, 2003, the Montana-based non-governmental organisation Sham provided the ERRC with additional testimonies in the case. According to the testimony of Emil Tinkov, he, Mr Kirilov and Mr Benev were leaving the forest without the wood they had cut because they had nothing to transport it on, when the two forest rangers approached them. Emil Tinkov stated that both forest rangers had their weapons drawn and the ranger known as "Toshko" shouted "Assen, don't move". According to Emil, the three ran back into the forest and the forest rangers immediately began to shoot their guns and he was shot in the shoulder. Emil testified that he and Mr Kirilov were separated from Mr Benev and hid in some bushes. According to the testimony of Mr Kirilov, the forest rangers walked by searching for them, cursing their ethnicity and saying that they should fetch more bullets. After some time, Emil testified, he and Mr Kirilov went home and called an ambulance. Emil's father, Mr Yuri Kirilov Haralampiev, testified to the ERRC that while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, five or six forest rangers entered their home without permission in search of wood. Later in the day, the forest rangers reportedly returned to Mr Haralampiev's home and took all of his wood. Emil was taken to the hospital in Krivodol, then transported to the hospital in Vratsa, where he remained for two weeks after doctors removed the bullet from his shoulder. As of September 18, 2003, Sham and the HRP had taken over legal representation in the case. As of July 23, 2003, the HRP informed the ERRC that the police investigation was ongoing. The police had reportedly matched the bullet removed from Emil Tinkov's shoulder to those from the gun belonging to one of the forest rangers. The HRP expected charges to be brought against the forest ranger in the near future.

In a case related to Roma collecting wood from nearby forests for heating their homes, on February 27, 2003, Mr Hyusein Sali, the chief forest ranger of the Karakuz area near the village of Cherkovna in northeastern Bulgaria, confiscated the carts of twelve Roma - Ahmed Syuley-man, aged 55, Redzheb Mustafa, 64, Gyunay Sali, 22, Yordan Todorov, 24, Alkin Demir, 23, Orhan Sali, 25, Stefan Dobrev, 30, Stefan Ivanov, 31, Ilhan Ibryam, 20, Mehmed Sali, 40, Orhan Ali, 30, and Kalya Ilieva, 31 - "caught" collecting dry wood after having been given oral permission to do so by Hyusein Sali himself. Roma constitute the majority of Cherkovna's population. On April 23, 2003, Mr Sunay Remzi, secretary of the Silistra County Administration, testified to the ERRC that during a meeting on February 25, the mayor of Cherkovna, Mr Nedzhmettin Sali, and Mr Hyusein Sali decided to allow people in need of wood for heating to collect dry wood from the ground of the nearby forest. Mr Remzi told the ERRC that, according to the twelve Roma, at around 10:00 AM on February 27, Mr Hyusein Sali gave them oral permission to go to the forest to collect dry wood, with the condition that they do not bring wood cutting tools with them. According to Mr Remzi, the twelve Roma returned to the village at around 2:30 PM with the wood that they had collected from the forest. There, Mr Remzi reported, Mr Hyusein Sali and three or four forest rangers and five or six military police officers met the twelve Roma. Mr Hyusein Sali accused the twelve Roma of stealing the wood and wrote up statements, which all twelve men were forced to sign. Mr Remzi informed the ERRC that, according to the statements, the carts of the twelve Roma and everything in the carts, was to be confiscated by the police. On March 17, 2003, Mayor Sali and the twelve Roma sent a complaint to the governor of the Silistra County, Mr Petko Dobrev, about the actions of Mr Hyusein Sali. Mr Remzi reported that one week later, the Silistra County Administration commenced an investigation into the case. Mr Remzi, who is conducting the investigation, told the ERRC that the case is very complicated because the Roma should not have entered the forest without written permission and the involvement of the national military police makes redress at the local level difficult. Mr Remzi met with Mayor Sali, who stated that Mr Hyusein Sali misled the twelve Roma. As of September 18, 2003, only two of the Roma had been given back their carts. Further information about the abuse of the human rights of Roma in Bulgaria is available on the ERRC's Internet website at: www.errc.org.

(ERRC, HRP, Sham, Trud)

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