Human Rights Watch joins calls for official investigation into police action at anti-government protest

The Bulgarian government should open an investigation into police action during the violent clashes on the evening of July 23 2013 outside the Bulgarian parliament that left 17 people injured, Human Rights Watch said on July 25, the same day that the Prosecutor-General and the Ombudsman announced that they had initiated their own, respective, investigations into events.

On July 23, anti-government demonstrators blockaded the Parliament building in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia, preventing a group of more than 100, including cabinet ministers, members of Parliament, and parliamentary correspondents from leaving.

As police tried to evacuate the MPs by bus, protesters blocked the way. A representative of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a local human rights organization, who witnessed the clashes, told Human Rights Watch that at about 10pm, riot police indiscriminately beat demonstrators with truncheons, hitting them with riot shields and kicking them. Some missiles, including stones and plastic bottles, were thrown, according to news reports. Police also beat five journalists.

“The disturbing reports that the police beat protesters and journalists call out for an investigation,” Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. “Protesters should refrain from violence, and the police should exercise restraint and show tolerance toward people exercising their right to protest.”

Bulgaria’s Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov said on July 25 that television footage has left him with the impression that police actions overstepped the boundary of normal police conduct. 

Ombudsman Konstantin Trenchev said that he would launch an inspection on his own initiative into the violence during the July 23 protests, Bulgarian news agency BTA said. In a letter to Interior Minister Yovchev, Trenchev said: “The footage circulated on the internet shows that citizens sustained various injuries during the protests. There is even information that journalists’ cameras were broken”.

The events of July 23 have so far been the exception in more than 40 days of peaceful protests that have daily drawn many thousands of Bulgarians to the streets to demand the resignation of the Bulgarian Socialist Party government.

(Photo: Alex Bivol)




The Sofia Globe staff

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