Bulgaria’s cabinet agreed at a regular meeting on November 30 to pay Australian murder convict Jock Palfreeman 3500 euro following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights that his punishments for complaining about prison staff had amounted to a violation of his right to freedom of expression.
Palfreeman is serving a 20-year sentence in Sofia for the December 2007 killing of Andrei Monov in the Bulgarian capital city.
In 2012, Palfreeman complained in writing to the governor of Sofia Central Prison, alleging that prison warders had been rude to two reporters that had visited him in jail and also alleging that staff had stolen the personal effects of a visitor to another inmate.
An inquiry found that there was no evidence to support Palfreeman’s allegations. In response, the prison governor ordered that Palfreeman could receive no food parcels from outside for three months.
An appeal to higher prison authority was overturned. An appeal to Sofia District Court resulted in the court finding that only solitary confinement orders were subject to review by the court.
The court ruled in a case to which it also joined the case of long-term prisoner Nikolai Shahanov, serving time in prison in Bulgaria’s second city, Plovdiv. Shahanov was put in solitary confinement for 10 days for making statements against prison staff that were found to be unjustified and defamatory. Judicial review in a Bulgarian court upheld the punishment.
Relying in particular on Article 10 (freedom of expression), both applicants alleged that their disciplinary punishments had breached their right to express criticism of prison officers and had been imposed as a reprisal.
In July 2016, the ECHR ruled that Palfreeman had been justified in submitting the complaint, even if no wrongdoing on the part of the prison staff had been found.
The ECHR ordered Bulgaria to pay 7000 euro to Shahanov.
In regard to the two cases, the ECHR found that the “serious sanctions imposed on the applicants could only be regarded as necessary in exceptional circumstances”, for example, where the applicants had knowingly made false accusations. This had not been the situation in either applicant’s case and on this basis the Court found that there had been a breach of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.