Many anti-fascists find themselves detained as political prisoners throughout the world. Here is the case of Jock Palfreeman, an Australian anti-fascist currently imprisoned in Bulgaria for defending a young Roma man from a racist attack. Jock continues to campaign to be repatriated to Australia.
Jock Palfreeman, as many young Australians do, left home early in 2006 to travel overseas. As a young man with an inquiring mind, he visited a number of countries, always seeking a wider experience than that of the average tourist. This led Jock to visit Bulgaria in Eastern Europe, where he made many good friends. Jock spent a number of months living and working with his friends and their families in a small country town about an hour’s drive from the capital, Sofia. Early in 2007, Jock left Bulgaria and travelled to the United Kingdom. During the Christmas/New Year period of 2007/2008, Jock returned to Bulgaria to visit friends and a series of events unfolded that was to have tragic consequences.
What happened to Jock during his ill-fated trip to Bulgaria
In the early hours of 28 December 2007, 21 year-old Jock and a couple of friends were in Sofia enjoying a night out when Jock witnessed an attack on a young Roma man by a large group of what he understood to be football hooligans. Jock went to help the victim and was then surrounded and attacked by the group. In the subsequent melee, two of the group were wounded, one fatally.
The police arrived on the scene and arrested Jock taking him to the police station where he was questioned and then placed in detention. The police did not search members of the group and did not secure the whole crime scene.
Since late December 2007, Jock has been an inmate of Sofia Prison while he and his family have been desperately working for a fair hearing from the Bulgarian justice system.
For a more detailed description (including court transcripts and witness statements) of the events that put Jock in prison and his subsequent court case click here. For a summary of Jock’s court case read on….
Jock’s trial started on 21 May 2008 and ran until 2 December 2009 over 19 sessions. Many court sessions were shortened or aborted when witnesses (including expert witnesses) did not appear or on several occasions, when one of the judging panel was on holidays. Despite the delays and deficiencies in the investigation, critical evidence was collected that supported Jock’s version of events.
The essential difference between the prosecution and defence cases was the beating of the Roma boy by the group before the two men from the group were wounded. The prosecution denied this ever happened (based solely on the group’s own evidence).
In May 2010, 5 months after delivering his verdict, the judge finally handed down a written explanation of the verdict. While acknowledging that all the oral and expert evidence (except Jock’s) was “truthful” and admissible, he determined that it supported the group’s version of what happened that night. The court did not provide any reasons to explain the detailed defence arguments which supported Jock’s version and outlined the false evidence given by the group.
The first session of Jock’s appeal was held on 21 October 2010, before three Appeal Court judges. A number of requests were put forward by the defence but only one was accepted. This was a request to re-question five witnesses to explain the discrepancies in their previous testimonies. Two of the witnesses were from the group that attacked the Roma and Jock. The other three were policemen. All five witnesses had stated in their original police statements that there was a fight between the group and Roma and yet during the first trial denied ever having said this.
The Appeal concluded on 19 January 2011 after 5 sessions and a written decision (in Bulgarian) was released in February 2011. Despite their acceptance that there was a fight between the group and Roma prior to Jock confronting the group, the Appeal court upheld the original decision of the Sofia City Court that found Jock guilty of murder with hooliganism and sentenced him to 20 years. In supporting the original decision and verdict the Appeal Court has also ignored key evidence, failed to provide reasons for rejecting the main defence arguments and refused defence requests to review critical forensic and CCTV evidence.
Jock’s final avenue for justice within Bulgaria was the Court of Cassation and his case was heard on 16 May 2011. The verdict was published by the Court in Bulgarian on 27 July 2011. The Court of Cassation upheld the decision of the previous appeal courts.
Write to Jock:
Sofia Central Prison
21 General Stoletov Boulevard
Sofia 1309, BULGARIA