Nobody Knows the True Number of Victims of Police Brutality in Bulgaria

A new report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) raises big concerns about the number of cases of police abuse and the way they are investigated and prosecuted.
In Bulgaria, there is no government body or institution that is obliged to collect and analyze information concerning police violence, claims BHC in it’s report.

Contradicting information

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee monitors annually the level of police violence in Bulgaria, interviewing people in police custody and prisons. The data from recent years shows that violence is persistent, and almost a third of the detainees are victims of illegal use of force by police officers. The alarming conclusion of the researchers is that minors are at the greatest risk of ill-treatment.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior and courts provide almost no information about the number of reported cases of abuses by law enforcement officers.

Only a third of the courts (42 of 144) have provided data about 212 initiated cases, but according to the Interior Ministry there were 1,146 appeals for the period 2000-2015.

Nobody knows to what extent the number of complaints is relevant to the appealed cases. Moreover, there is no collection of thorough information about the real number of complaints, and their outcome.

No punishment

The most common complaints are about torture and unlawful detention (42.2 percent and 41.5 percent, respectively), and in 16.4 percent of cases the interrogation was conducted with illegal use of force. Of all the 1,146 complaints, received in the Ministry of Interior, only 11 percent of the cases resulted in violations being found and punishment being imposed. Three hundred complaints were deemed unfounded, and 725 cases were considered as complying with the law.

By comparison, when the appeal was brought to the court, the officers were found guilty in 61 percent of the cases. This suggests that the Ministry of Interior has no policy regarding the investigation and punishment of the law enforcement officers in cases where they exceed their powers.

Even in those few cases in which a violation of the law was found, the penalty is usually diminished. According to the Interior Ministry, only 18 policemen have been dismissed in the past 15 years, 48 were fined, and 11 were sentenced to conditional imprisonment (for a period of 1.5 to 3 years). Normally, the fines vary from 500 to 1,000 levas (approximately 250 to 500 euro), and there is no information on whether they are actually paid.

According to the data provided from the courts for the same period, fines were imposed on 101 police officers, and 28 were punished with a conditional sentence of imprisonment.

Consequences

The data discrepancies show that police violence is a worrying problem in Bulgaria. According to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee's analysis of European Court of Human Rights judgments against Bulgaria, the state was sentenced to pay over 900,000 levas in penalties and damages between 2000 and 2010 because of uninvestigated and unpunished police violence.