Bulgarian court tries police officers

07 November 1997

On September 26, a military court in the northern Bulgarian town of Pleven convicted two police officers for the murder of a Romani man in a police station in the nearby town of Nikopol which had taken place nearly three years previously.

On November 15, 1994, a Romani man named Khristo Ivanov Nikolov was taken to the police to be questioned in connection with a theft. Two police officers beat him with fists and a wooden board and kicked him in the course of the interrogation. The victim died at or on the way to the hospital. The prosecution initially qualified the murder as intentional where the premise was that the two police officers did not directly aim to murder the victim but they knew that their treatment of him could result in his death. Aggravating circumstances of the murder were the fact that it was committed by police officers in the line of duty (Art. 116 point 2 of the Bulgarian Penal Code) and that it was cruel and committed in a way which caused extreme pain and suffering to the victim (Art. 116 point 6). These charges, if sustained by the court, would have brought
a punishment of 15 to 20 years imprisonment, life imprisonment or capital punishment. However, the court decided that the accused did not mean to kill Mr Nikolov, nor knew that their ill-treatment of him could have brought about his death, but rather that they intended only to cause him pain and suffering. As a result, the court applied another text of the Penal Code, Article 124, which pro ides for a punishment of 2 to 8 years in Arison. The court then sentenced both defendants to 4.5 years in Arison and awarded damages to the victim's family in the amount of 1,000,000 Bulgarian Leva (1,000 German Marks) each. The Human Rights Project is appealing the decision on behalf of the victim's family, as is the prosecution. Both argue that the murder should be qualified as intentional.

(ERRC, Human Rights Project)


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