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Australian Activist Jock Palfreeman Is Taking On Bulgaria's Prison System From the Inside

 Jock Palfreeman

Image calling for solidarity with Jock Palfreeman that has circulated on Twitter.

Twitter users in several countries are campaigning for “a day of solidarity” with Australian prison activist Jock Palfreeman, who is calling attention to human rights violations in the Bulgarian prison system from his own jail cell — he is currently serving what he and others claim is an unjust 20-year sentence for murder in Bulgaria.

The beginning of Palfreeman's troubling story unfolded in late 2007, when he saw a group of 16 “football hooligans” attack two Roma boys (also known as Gypsies) in the capital Sofia and intervened, according to Brighton-based organization Anarchist Black Cross, which raises funds and organizes protests on behalf of political prisoners: 

He tried to keep them away by waving a knife at them, but they attacked him anyway, not only with fists and punches but also by throwing blocks of concrete at him. Jock defended himself with the knife. As a result of the fight, one of the attackers, Andrei Monov, died and another was seriously injured.

The dead man turned out to be from a well known Bulgarian family with political connections and, after 2 long years of procedurally dubious trial with a clear political flavour, Jock was found guilty of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and given a 375 000 Australian dollar fine [about 350,000 US dollars].

Palfreeman was 21 at the time. His case has received media attention around the world, especially in his native Australia.

Since his conviction, he has been assisting fellow prisoners with legal aid and in fighting against corruption within the Bulgarian prison system. With other prisoners, he has founded the Bulgarian Prisoners’ Association (BPRA).

It took the BPRA two years and the assistance of lawyers, notaries, family and friends to open a bank account to help fund the association's planned work, which includes legal aid and filing for wrongful punishment compensation for often illiterate and impoverished prisoners in the Bulgarian prison system.

A recent post on the associations’ blog describes some of what they claim goes on in the Bulgarian prison system:

[...] Appealing punishments doesn't delay the coming into force of the punishment. So before the appeal is heard the prisoner goes to isolation. He does the full punishment of 14 days as is returned to general population where he then gets called to court. The judge overturns the punishment order but the immediate effect of the punishment was already enacted. So the prisoner can sue, but Bulgarian law is strange in that you must pay a % of the money you’re asking for as a deposit before submitting compensation requests. So you need money to ask for money, not to mention the lawyer fees.[...]

Up until now almost no one does or can sue the prison for wrongful punishment or for some other form of illegal order and so the prison administration continues to issue illegal orders with impunity. Even some prisoners are put in isolation fast as the prison knows that upon a court hearing the punishment will be overturned and no longer enforceable.[...]

The blog post also goes on to describe other human rights violations, such as Bulgarian authorities allegedly not providing translators for foreign prisoners who do not speak any Bulgarian and have been jailed for illegal border crossings into Bulgaria.

Australian journalist and author Belinda Hawkins researched and wrote a book about Palfreeman's case, titled “Every Parent's Nightmare”. In May 2014, the author announced that students in New South Wales would be using the Palfreeman case and her book in a Year 11 Legal Studies course.

In a March 2014 television interview, Hawkins gave more detail and description of not only the case, but the young prisoner turned activist himself, his life, temperament and family:

Several petitions have been launched for his release, while the day of solidarity to raise awareness of Palfreeman's case and the corruption within the Bulgarian prison system is scheduled for July 25, 2014. Details of his trial and conviction are also available on the Free Jock website.

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