Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of government officials employing degrading treatment. A 2017 analysis by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Bulgarian Helsinki Committee indicated that more than 40 percent of the jail population complained of physical injuries and illegal arrests, while 16 percent alleged forced interrogations. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee continued to criticize the Interior Ministry for not collecting or tracking information on police brutality and for lacking an efficient mechanism for investigating and punishing offending officials. According to the NGO, physical abuse of detainees by police was widespread and disproportionately affected Romani suspects.
There were reports that police physically mistreated migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the border into the country (see section 2.d., Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in most prisons were harsh, with problems including violence against inmates by prison staff; overcrowding; prison staff corruption; and inadequate sanitary, living, and medical facilities.
In the report published on May 4 following its visit in 2017, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted that interprisoner violence remained a serious problem. The CPT claimed there was a “slight improvement” regarding the severity of alleged mistreatment of persons in police custody, but the number of allegations of physical abuse remained high in police detention centers, migrant detention facilities, and psychiatric establishments.
Physical Conditions: Most prison facilities dated from the early 1900s. In its report the CPT noted “evidence of refurbishment in almost all penitentiary establishments visited” but described the situation in the detention facility in Sliven and the foreign prisoner section of Sofia prison as “totally unacceptable.” The CPT identified a “severe problem of generalized infestation” by bed bugs in all penitentiary facilities as well as “inhuman and degrading conditions” in some institutions for persons with disabilities.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee identified several additional problems, including poor access to health care and its poor quality wherever available, insufficient access to work, poor working conditions, and prison corruption.
The law provides for the establishment of closed-type centers or designation of closed-type areas within a reception center for confinement in isolation of migrants who disturbed the internal order.
The government ombudsman reported cases of police and prison authorities applying excessive force and abusing detainees and prisoners in detention centers and in the prison in Sofia, and a lack of effective administrative response to such abuses. In a report to the justice minister, the ombudsman criticized authorities for their continued unnecessary use of handcuffs despite the ombudsman’s recommendation against the practice in 2016-17. According to the report, detention center authorities handcuffed more than 300 detainees during their daily walks.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee criticized the prison administration for not performing medical examinations on detainees following reports of police abuse and for rarely punishing offending officers. According to the ombudsman, prison authorities continued to use handcuffs when prisoners were hospitalized in a general hospital, following illegal instructions issued by the heads of the penitentiary institutions.
The ombudsman expressed concern that prison administrations consistently denied prisoners access to education and criticized the lack of adequate light in detention centers, as well as inadequate stocks of bed linen and food, which sometimes left detainees without food for 24 hours. The ombudsman also reported that detention centers for unlawful migrants did not provide adequate accommodation for families with children. The ombudsman criticized conditions in the detention centers for having poor hygiene, poor lighting, high humidity, and inadequate access to fresh air.
Human rights activists accused the prison administration of suppressing the activity of the Bulgarian Prisoner Association, an NGO founded by inmates to advocate for prisoner rights, by confiscating applications for membership and punishing and physically abusing its members.
Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment. The prison administration dismissed nearly half of the received complaints as groundless and took action on 12 percent of them. According to the CPT, the prison system suffered serious corruption and staffing issues, particularly with regard to health-care personnel. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that medical personnel did not report all cases of violence against prisoners by custodial staff to the prosecution service.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. According to the concluding observations of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Committee against Torture’s sixth periodic report (issued in December 2017), the country’s Office of Ombudsman was not sufficiently equipped to fulfill its mandate as national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Improvements: As of September the government refurbished the prison facility in Vratsa with a separate facility for juvenile offenders, who were moved from Boychinovtsi in mid-August.
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, there were reports that police at times abused their arrest and detention authority. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Interior is responsible for law enforcement, migration, and border enforcement. The State Agency for National Security, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for counterintelligence, domestic intelligence analysis, and investigating corruption and organized crime. The State Intelligence Agency, under the Council of Ministers, is responsible for foreign intelligence, and the Military Information Service, under the defense minister, is responsible for military intelligence. The National Protective Service is responsible for the security of dignitaries and answers to the president.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over police and security services. Police and the prosecution service are responsible for investigating security force killings. While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, implementation was inadequate, and impunity was a problem.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law says that police normally must obtain a warrant prior to apprehending an individual. Police may hold a detainee for 24 hours without charge, and a prosecutor may authorize an additional 72 hours. A court must approve detention longer than 72 hours. The law prohibits holding detainees in custody without indictment for more than two months if they are charged with misdemeanors; detainees charged with felonies may be held without indictment for eight months, while persons suspected of crimes punishable by at least 15 years’ imprisonment may be held up to 18 months without indictment. Prosecutors may not arrest military personnel without the defense minister’s approval. Authorities generally observed these laws. According to official information requested by the press, in 2017 through mid-January the Interior Ministry conducted 90 internal investigations of illegal arrest or brutality, resulting in the firing of three police officers, impositions of official censure on 15, official reprimand on 10, and promotion freeze on seven.
The law provides for release on personal recognizance, bail, and house arrest, and these measures were widely used.
The law provides for the right to counsel from the time of detention, and internal regulations instruct that detainees have access to legal counsel no later than two hours after detention and that a lawyer have access to the detainee within 30 minutes of his or her arrival at a police station. The law provides for government-funded legal aid for low-income defendants; defendants could choose from a list of public defenders provided by the bar associations. A national hotline provided 15-minute free legal consultations eight hours per day.
In April anticorruption authorities arrested Sofia’s Mladost district mayor Desislava Ivancheva and her deputy Bilyana Petrova and held them in handcuffs on the street for four hours while collecting evidence from their car. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee questioned the legality of the arrest. Media coverage of the case in August showed Ivancheva with cuffed hands and feet while being taken to the hospital for checks on a pre-existing condition as well as in the courtroom. Human rights activists claimed that although the restraining measures used on Ivancheva and Petrova were not in violation of existing laws and regulations, they were harsher than those commonly used with violent criminals. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and the ombudsman further criticized the sanitary and other conditions in the cells where the two were detained.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary detention. In September police handcuffed two investigative reporters and their lawyer near the town of Radomir and kept them in detention for nearly seven hours (see section 2.a., Press and Media Freedom). In February 2017 police arrested Rosen Markov, who was protesting in front of the municipality over a business dispute, and evaluated him as insane. In January the Varna Regional Court awarded Markov 0.67 levs ($1.15) in damages for his three-day forced detention in a psychiatric ward of a hospital.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of accountability continued to be pervasive problems. Public trust in the judicial system remained low because of the perception that magistrates were susceptible to political pressure and rendered unequal justice. In its November cooperation and verification mechanism report, the European Commission noted that “targeted attacks on judges in some media” affected judicial independence and encouraged the Supreme Judicial Council, which is responsible for the administration of the judiciary, to take an active role against such attacks.
According to human rights organizations, the law has low standards of fair trial, creating possibilities for violation of procedural rights of lawyers and defendants.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
The law presumes defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. They have the right to a fair and timely trial, but long delays affected the delivery of justice in criminal procedures. All court hearings are public except for cases involving national security, endangering public morals, and affecting the privacy of juvenile defendants. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and can demand a retrial if convicted in their absence, unless they were evading justice at the time of the first trial.
The constitution and the law give defendants the right to an attorney, provided at public expense for those who cannot afford one. A defense attorney is mandatory if the alleged crime carries a possible punishment of 10 or more years in prison; if the defendant is a juvenile, foreigner, or person with mental or physical disabilities; or if the accused is absent. Defendants have the right to ample time and facilities to prepare a defense. They have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all their appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses, examine evidence, and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law provides for the right of appeal, which was widely used.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals may file allegations of human rights abuses with courts and with the Commission for Protection against Discrimination, which can impose fines on violators. After all remedies in domestic courts are exhausted, individuals can appeal decisions involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights. Long delays affected civil cases.
While the government has no legislation specific to Holocaust-era property restitution, laws and mechanisms in place address communist era real property claims (not including moveable property), including by foreign citizens, which have been applied to cover Holocaust-related claims. NGOs and advocacy groups, including local Jewish organizations, reported significant progress on resolution of such claims. After World War II, the communist government first restituted and then nationalized the personal and community property lost during the Holocaust. After the fall of communism, Jewish organizations and individuals were able to reclaim ownership of or receive compensation for community property nationalized by the communist regime. The Ministry of Defense refused to restore to the Jewish community a property located on the Naval Academy’s campus in Varna, claiming that it was used for strategic communications. According to the Organization of Bulgarian Jews, Shalom, the Varna property was the only outstanding Holocaust-era communal property that had not been returned.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions. Law enforcement agencies can access electronic data traffic only in cases related to serious crime or national security. In June the parliamentary committee overseeing the work of security services reported that police, prosecutors’ offices, and the National Revenue Agency had accessed electronic traffic data illegally. According to the annual report of the National Bureau for Oversight of Specialized Investigative Techniques, the State Agency for National Security repeatedly refused to provide access to wiretapping documentation and interfered in the bureau’s oversight function.