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: http://www.cpt.coe.int

These documents are also available on the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice’s website: http://www.justice.government.bg