Police abuse of Roma in Bulgaria

10 September 1998

On July 10, 1998, at approximately 7:00 pm, over 80 uniformed policemen with shields and helmets raided the Romani neighborhood in the village of Mechka, Pleven district of Bulgaria. The Sofia-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Project (HRP) reported that officers beat over thirty Roma with truncheons, and broke doors, windows and furniture in Romani houses.

Local Roma told the HRP that the policemen arrived in around 25 cars and two minibuses, and attacked about 15 Romani houses. The policemen broke into the houses without showing warrants and indiscriminately assaulted men, women and children. During the assault police officers used anti-Romani racial language. The following people were beaten in their homes: Shaban Aliev (11), Shukri Aliev (48), Yusein Aliev (35), Aishe Alieva (12), Emine Ismailova (60), Shefika Mehmedova (21), Ali Rasimov (28), Memish Rasimov (27), Rashid Rasimov (52), Denka Rasimova (29), Yurkie Shabanova (47), Anife Syuleimanova (27), Binaz Yasimova (50), Ali Yusufov (68), Mehmed Yusufov (53), and Memish Yusufov (48).

Five days after the police assault, scars and bruises left by police truncheons were evident. Mr Mehmed Yusufov, 53, stated that half an hour before the assault, around 6:30 pm, seven policemen had come to his house and looked around without giving him any explanation. The policemen did not behave aggressively during the ten-minute search and, after finishing, they gave Mehmed a search certificate, indicating that "the object of search was not found". Half an hour later policemen with helmets and shields surrounded his house, broke in and started beating him and his wife with truncheons. They dislodged the door by kicking it heavily, and broke the windows.

Ms Emine Ismailova, 60, told the HRP that the police officers assaulted her and beat her with truncheons on the back and all over her legs. Representatives of the HRP observed heavy bruises on her legs. Ms Ismailova also said that her TV set had been taken away by the policemen because she was not able to give them a proof of its purchase. She complained that the policemen cut the tires of her cart with a knife. The police officers also broke the windows of her house and smashed a framed photo of her dead husband hanging on the wall.

Police officers humiliated Ms Shefika Mehmedova, 21, by verbally abusing her. Mr Ali Rasimov, 28, was hit with truncheons on the head. A police officer hit the arm of 11-year-old Shaban Aliev with a truncheon, fracturing it. Police officers also allegedly beat Mr Ali Sherifov, who is handicapped and entirely incapable of moving. Mr Ali Yusufov, 68, was on the way to his home from Gorna Oryahovitsa, when, around 7 pm, he was suddenly attacked by the policemen. They beat him on the head and all over his body with truncheons.

Victims stated that immediately after the attack they went to the local doctor, Mr Tomov, to obtain a document allowing them to have a medical check at the Regional Hospital in Pleven. The Roma alleged that Dr Tomov refused to give them this document claiming that the police called him and forbade him to do so. Three days after the police raid, fifteen victims obtained forensic certificates at a hospital in Pleven, the nearest city to the village of Mechka, for the injuries caused to them by the police beating. Nine of them submitted complaints to the Regional Military Prosecutor's Office in Pleven.

The Human Rights Project held a press conference on the raid on July 22. Several hours after the press conference, it was reported to HRP that local non-Roma of Mechka had drafted a "declaration about Roma crimes" and that several people had threatened to expel the Roma living there. As to the official versions, they were contradictory. HRP was initially told by the Pleven district chief of police that the guilty policemen will be punished if the the HRP does not report the case to the media. The HRP called in the media, to whom the police denied that any raid or police action had taken place at all, and attributed injuries to a "drunken fight at a Roma wedding".

Other police abuse of Roma, including a police killing, has been reported recently by the Human Rights Project. A Rom named Yordan Assenov Yankov, 26, was reportedly shot and killed by a police officer in the Ovcha Kupel neighborhood of Sofia on June 20, 1998. On June 22 and 23 representatives of the HRP spoke with relatives of Mr Yankov and with a witness to the killing.

Information issued by the police and published by the Bulgarian dailies on June 22, asserted that one police officer from 4th Regional Police Department of Sofia wanted to stop Mr Yankov for a passport check. According to the police, Mr Yankov then tried to escape. When he did not stop after a warning shot, the officer shot at his feet. The bullet hit Mr Yankov in the head and he fell down. He died on the spot.

According to information provided to HRP by a witness to the incident and on the testimony of Mr Yankov's relatives, on June 20, 1998, at about 4 pm, Yordan Yankov was near the block of flats No. 610 in Ovcha Kupel neighborhood, where he lived. He had gone out to buy cigarettes from a café nearby. On his way back, Mr Yankov went into the bushes to pick up some wild plums. When Mr Yankov came out of the bush at about 16:20, he was stopped by a policeman in uniform in a police car, who asked Mr Yankov, through the window of the car, what he was carrying. When Mr Yankov stopped next to the car to answer the question, the police officer shot him in the foot. Mr Yankov crawled several meters towards block No. 610 and the police car followed him. According to the witness, one of the police officers then got out of the car, approached Mr Yankov, and shot him in the head.

An investigation into the case is open. The police claim that due to a defect in the gun which was used by the policeman, the rubber bullet caused the death of the person.

Reported instances of abuse of Roma by law enforcement officials in Bulgaria remain alarmingly frequent. During the first half of 1998, at least two Romani individuals have died as a direct result of the use of force by law enforcement officials in Bulgaria.

(ERRC, Human Rights Project)


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