Continuing police brutality in Bulgaria
05 September 1999
About one year ago the Bulgarian government, prompted by pressure from the international community and by concern for votes at home, began a campaign for the political integration of Roma. Despite that central effort, grassroots anti-Roma prejudice accounts for numerous instances of brutality against Roma, perpetrated by policemen, but also by civilians. The following cases, reported by the Human Rights Project (HRP) illustrate the point; many more have been documented and are being monitored by the HRP and other Bulgarian NGOs.
On July 20, 1999, at around 5 AM, Mr M.K. from the village of Slavyanovo, northern Bulgaria, was travelling in a horse-cart with a friend of his, Mr M.G. Two police officers saw them and ordered them to stop. Mr M.G. jumped from the cart and one of the policemen shot in the air. The horse took fright and Mr M.K. couldn't stop the cart at once. He heard more shots behind his back. When Mr M.K. finally stopped the horse, the policemen caught up with him and ordered him to get out and lie down. Then they handcuffed him and one of the policemen hit him in the neck with the handle of his gun. Afterwards the same officer started kicking Mr MK. in the head and all over the body. Mr M.K. was then take to the Regional Police Department in Slavyanovo, where, he alleges, he was again beaten by the police. He was released him at around 3:30 PM. Mr M.K. has obtained a medical certificate and duly filed a complaint. The HRP is monitoring the case.
On July 22, 1999, at around 11 PM, four Romani men and one Romani woman were travelling by a horse-cart to the town of Polski Trwmbesh, northern Bulgaria. They picked some melons from a field by the road. There was an armed civilian guard in the field, who tried to stop them, shot at them and wounded Mr A.A. in the back of the head. The guard then ran away, and they turned back towards the hospital in the nearby town of Pavlikeni. However, the guard reappeared together with three other civilians, and ordered them wait for the police. When the police arrived, they called an ambulance for the wounded man. The ambulance came, but the medical team allegedly refused to treat Mr A.A., saying that he was drunk and in no need of their help. The police then took the Roma to the Regional Police department in Pavlikeni. There Mr A.T. and Mr A.B. were reportedly beaten by police officers. The wounded Mr A.A. was left in the cart outside the police station between midnight and 4 AM on the following day. Then the police called an ambulance again, Mr A.A. was given first aid and was later transferred to the hospital in the city of Veliko Twrnovo. The victims have filed complaints against the guard and the police officers; the case is monitored by HRP.
The HRP recently managed to block a situation which might have developed into a case of harassment, extortion or torture. On August 17, 1999, Mr M.B., a Rom from the village of Dwbovo, northern Bulgaria, asked the HRP for assistance, as he was being summoned to the police headquarters in the city of Kazanlwk. A few days before receiving the summons he was allegedly threatened and abused without cause by a police officer from Kazanlwk. That police officer had threatened Mr M.B.'s life and abused his Romani identity; Mr M.B. was afraid that the same man had "arranged" his being summoned without legal cause. When the summons paper was examined, the HRP found a series of formal violations, which would have made it very difficult to trace the document back to the person that had issued it. It was decided that Mr M.B. should go to the police station as requested, accompanied however by a lawyer. When major K., the police officer who had signed the summons received them, he was apparently startled to see that M.B. was not alone. Major K. reportedly said: "It looks like you brought a lawyer with you. You must be afraid that I'm going to beat you. Don't you worry." Following this, it turned out that major K.officer didn't know the number of the case he was supposed to be investigating; he had to make a phone call in order to get it. Then the lawyer and his client learned that the case in question had never been assigned to that police officer. Mr M.B. was released. Apparently, the mere presence of a lawyer who would not be intimidated was in this instance sufficient to abort yet another police crime against Roma.