Starving Roma in Bulgaria Beaten by Police
10 April 1997
The latest news on Roma in Bulgaria is starvation and food riots- and police abuse in their wake. Bulgarian dailies reported on February 2 and 3, 1997, that three Romani children from the town of Stara Zagora had starved to death. On February 4, following a rise in bread prices, two thousand Roma in the central Bulgarian city of Pazardzhik demonstrated to protest discrimination by the government and local authorities. Following the demonstration, a group of Romani children allegedly began throwing stones at three food shops and shouting, „We are hungry!" One of the shops was looted for food while, according to testimony, approximately 15 police officers looked on and encouraged the appropriation of food, but warned the looters not to cause damage to the shops.
In the early afternoon of the same day, masked policemen from a special unit of the Pazardzhik Regional Police Department entered the predominantly Roma neighbourhood of Iztok and began assaulting the local Roma.
During the operation, the policemen attacked and beat around 60 Roma with truncheons, raided houses, broke windows and destroyed furniture. Mr. Sheriff Eminov Yussuffov, 62, and his wife Anche Angelova Karagyozova, 66, reported that policemen had broken into their house, swore at them and beat them.
Mr. Kadri Djamal Ahmed, 43, who was on his way home from work, was attacked and beaten by masked policemen. Mr. Lyubcho Assenov Michailov, 49, was also beaten and later detained by the police. He was also allegedly beaten in police custody. Mr. Krum Ignatov Uanchov, 29, living in the inner part of the Roma neighbourhood, was assaulted and beaten in his home. The policemen also broke the windows of his car, which was parked in front of his house. Five Roma from the Iztok neighbourhood sought medical treatment for head wounds.
According to the Sofia-based Human Rights Project, the Director of the Regional Department of the Ministry of Interior acknowledged that he had dispatched the special police force, and also that force had been used. He insisted, however, that there had been no misuse of police power and denied that innocent Roma had been beaten. The head of the police station in the Iztok neighbourhood admitted, however, that he had witnessed beating of innocent Roma by policemen.
Food riots have not been confined to Pazardzhik. The Bulgarian media reported that on February 4, a group of around 70 Roma attacked and robbed four local shops for food in the city of Plovdiv. The daily Demokratsia reported the incident as the result of provocation by criminal elements. On February 8 and 9, the Bulgarian dailies Kontinent and Demokratsia reported that Roma from the village of Rakovski, Razgrad district, had attacked and robbed a local shop for food. The Roma told the media that they could not bear the hunger any more, since for three months they had eaten only corn.
(ERRC, Human Rights Project)