Council of Europe anti-torture Committee publishes report on Bulgaria

The Council for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe published a report on its ad-hoc visit to detention centres in Bulgaria:

Strasbourg, 29.01.2015 – The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) today published the report on its visit to Bulgaria in March/April 2014, and the response of the Bulgarian authorities. The visit provided an opportunity to review the implementation of recommendations made after the Committee’s previous visits, with particular attention paid to the treatment of persons in police custody and of juveniles in penitentiary establishments, as well as the conditions of detention and the provision of healthcare in prisons.

The Committee notes that the vast majority of its long-standing recommendations, some of them dating back to the very first periodic visit to Bulgaria in 1995, remain unimplemented, for example as regards ill-treatment (both in the police and prison context), inter-prisoner violence, prison overcrowding, material conditions of detention in investigation detention facilities (IDF) and prisons, prison health care, staffing levels, as well as discipline, segregation and contact with the outside world. The CPT is of the view that urgent and effective action must now be taken to address all these concerns.

Many allegations of deliberate physical ill-treatment of persons detained by the police (including juveniles and women) were received. In some isolated cases, they were of such a severity that they could amount to torture (e.g. truncheon blows on the soles of the feet, blows with truncheons inflicted to a person attached with handcuffs to hooks fixed to a door frame – and thus immobilised in a hyperextended position – and infliction of electric shocks using an electrical discharge weapon). In several cases, medical evidence supporting the allegations was found.

No improvements have been noted as to the practical implementation of the safeguards against police ill-treatment: persons in police custody are rarely put in a position to notify promptly their next-of-kin of their detention and hardly ever benefit from the presence and the services of a lawyer during the initial period of 24 hours of police custody.
Prison overcrowding remains a very serious problem despite a drop in the prison population since the last CPT visit in 2012. In addition, the 2014 visit confirmed the endemic problem of corruption. As regards more specifically Burgas Prison, the CPT is very concerned that the Bulgarian authorities seem not to have fully realised the extreme gravity of the situation in that establishment.

No allegations of physical ill-treatment by prison officers were received at Vratsa Prison, which was not the case at Belene Prison, where several credible such allegations were heard. The situation was markedly worse at Burgas and Sofia prisons, where a significant number of such allegations were gathered. In several cases, the delegation’s medical members observed and described recent lesions on the bodies of inmates. The CPT was also struck by the situation at Boychinovtsi Correctional Home, where the vast majority of the interviewed juvenile inmates complained of being regularly beaten by custodial staff.

The Committee was very concerned that no measures have been taken to combat the phenomenon of inter-prisoner violence which was widespread at Sofia Prison and literally omnipresent at Burgas Prison.

The severe shortage in health-care staffing levels observed in all prisons visited rendered extremely difficult the provision of health care worthy of the name. The CPT has again called for a considerable reinforcement of the health-care teams at all the prisons visited.

The review of the situation of life-sentenced prisoners demonstrated that little had been done to improve their conditions in the light of the CPT’s long-standing recommendations. In addition, no progress had been made as regards the removal from the Criminal Code of the sentence of “life imprisonment without the right to substitution”.

The CPT’s visit report and the response of the Bulgarian Government, which have been made public at the request of the Bulgarian authorities, are available in English on the CPT’s website:

These documents are also available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice’s website:

Beatings and no reform in Bulgaria’s only juvenile jail

From: The Peninsula (Qatar), February 11, 2015
BOYCHINOVTSI CORRECTIONAL HOME, Bulgaria—Angel, 17, was due to be released soon so he was not afraid to talk about the abuse he says staff commit in Bulgaria’s dilapidated and only youth prison, Boychinovtsi Correctional Home.

“I was beaten a week after I arrived. They told me to come to the bathroom, it is their boxing ring,” Angel, one of 62 adolescent boys locked up at the facility, said as AFP was allowed inside for a heavily supervised recent visit.

“If you say something bad about the prison over the phone, the officer downstairs cuts the line and asks you to come over,” the tall, thin teenager added.

But others, fearful of the consequences of speaking to outsiders were not so talkative. Apart from Angel, only a few selected by staff were allowed to speak to AFP — and none in private.

“I was not beaten and I never saw the wardens using sticks,” said a sheepish Sevdalin, 20, half-way through a nine-year sentence for a crime he described as “the worst”.

The director of the prison also denied any abuse by staff.

Eight years after ex-communist Bulgaria joined the European Union as its poorest member, it is still struggling to reform its inefficient, corrupt judicial system and improve deplorable conditions in all its prisons.

But Boychinovtsi has come in for particular criticism, having been the subject of two recent damning reports — prompting a scrutinising mission by the justice ministry and an investigation by prosecutors.

According to one of the reports, issued in December by rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), staff routinely beat the inmates, including with bats, broomsticks and other objects.

These were punishments for “speaking loudly”, “smoking in the TV room” or “not cleaning well”, BHC expert Zhenya Ivanova told AFP.

And after the BHC visit, the boys were threatened.

“They were told, ‘Don’t forget that they’ll leave and you’ll stay here, you’ll leave in a wheelchair’,” Ivanova said.

According to the second report, from the Council of Europe’s Prevention of Torture Committee (CPT) issued in late January, another common sanction applied “frequently” is solitary confinement.

This took place in “cold and dilapidated bar-fronted cells, equipped with low wooden sleeping platforms and unscreened, dirty and malodorous toilets,” the CPT said, calling the prison “extremely dilapidated and dirty”.

– Bitter cold –

The facility is set in an isolated rural area of northern Bulgaria and consists of a sprawl of former military barracks built before World War II in varying states of disrepair.

The inmates — mostly aged 14 to 18 — are serving time for thefts, assaults and even murders.

They complained to the BHC about the bitter cold in the rooms, saying they did not take off their jackets during the day and slept two in a bed to keep warm.

The heating was on during AFP’s visit but taped cardboard substituted missing glass panes on some of the windows.

In the rooms, four beds and two empty wardrobes were the only objects. There were no personal items.

The boys said they washed their clothes in cold water. Hot water was available only on Mondays and Thursdays in bathrooms the CPT said were “in an outrageous condition”.


The Bulgarian Prisoners` Rehabilitation Association (B.P.R.A.)

This is reblogged from the website of the Bulgarian Prisoners Association:

The Bulgarian Prisoners` Rehabilitation Association (B.P.R.A.) was registered on 26.07.2012 in the Sofia City Court in Bulgaria. It involves only prisoners and ex-prisoners and thus it is the first of its kind in Bulgarian history and thus marks a massive leap forward in Eastern Europe prisoners’ rights.

The Association is the manifestation of the collective wills of prisoners in Bulgaria and shows their intensive and organised struggle to combat the corruption of the penitentiary institutions. Its main goal is to reduce the massive difference between prisoners´ rights in other E.U. member states and these in Bulgaria.


Bulgarian Prisoners`Rehabilitation Association
PO BOX 485
Sofia 1000

Българското Затворническо Сдружение за Рехабилитация (Б.З.С.Р.) беше регистрирано на 26.07.2012 в Софийския съд на България. Асоциацията включва само бивши и настоящи затворници. Тя  е първата по рода си  в  историята на България и с това бележи огромна крачка в защита на правата на лишените от свобода в Източна Европа. Асоциацията е израз на колективните желания на затворниците в България и показва открито тяхната интензивна организирана борба с корупцията в съдебно-наказателните система. Главната цел на сдружението е да се застъпи за правата на затворниците в България и ги доближи поне малко до тези в други страни членки на Европейския Съюз.