Bulgarian Police assault two Romani men, one of whom then died
The European Roma Rights Centre reports that a Romani father and son who were assaulted and beaten up by a group of police officers near their home in the town of Bohot, Pleven Province, Bulgaria on 13 April were victims of police brutality. The incident began when the men parked their car near a forest to collect kindling.
A group of local police officers noticed them, surrounded them, ordered them to lie down on the ground, then repeatedly beat them with batons and kicked them. The father, who had a cardiac condition and used a pacemaker, died at the scene after the assault.
His son suffered serious injuries, including a broken arm, broken ribs, and bruises and contusions all over his body. State authorities justified the police intervention by claiming that the men had been resisting arrest, allegedly for the theft of pesticides.
Officials have also alleged that the father experienced his heart attack when he attempted to flee, not as a consequence of the assault. The family of the deceased claims to have photographs of the father's beaten body which have not yet been released.
As of last week the results of the autopsy were still being awaited. Recent research performed by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) has reported that more than one-third of those arrested by the Bulgarian Police allege they were subjected to violence either during their arrest or directly at a police station while in custody.
Compared to the majority society, Romani people in Bulgaria are reportedly half again as likely to become victims of violence, while in the case of Romani youth that probability rises to 70 %. From the most recent report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) it can be seen that anybody who finds themselves within eyeshot of the Bulgarian Police faces a significant risk of being abused by them.
Another recent report by the BHC attempted to accumulate comprehensive information about the number of victims of police brutality and other data about the outcomes of police investigations in Bulgaria. What that report found, however, is that nobody, neither the local nor the state authorities, "really knows" how extensive police violence is there.
This particular case was not publicized until almost a week after the incident, with Bulgaria's Nova television station broadcasting a program featuring an interview about it with Anton Sirakov, a former vice-deputy of the ethnonationalist, ultra-right ATAKA party, infamous for its hatred of ethnic minorities, Romani people especially. In then interview, Sirakov said it was very suspicious to him that the Romani family had sought the aid of what he called the "criminal loving" BHC.
Sirakov is then shown watching a video recording featuring shots of the deceased man's home, during which he notes that while the family's choice of furnishings testifies to what he calls their "poor taste", they also imply that the family is not impoverished and that therefore they must necessarily be thieves, in his view. "They weren't in their own woods. When a man is very sick, he doesn't go out to steal," Sirakov said, clearly implying that the deceased was to blame for his own death.
At another moment in the broadcast Sirakov also praises the police for "neutralizing" the alleged thieves and for taking such an uncompromising approach toward them. Sirakov and his supporters are alleging that all Romani people are nothing but thieves and that the police, therefore, committed no errors during their intervention - Romani people are generally considered criminals in Bulgaria and the opinion predominates there that violence committed against them is justified.
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