Bulgaria’s Ataka leader Siderov arrested on hooliganism and assault charges
Volen Siderov, leader of Bulgaria’s opposition minority party Ataka, was taken into 72-hour custody on November 17 on charges of hooliganism and assault.
Siderov came as ordered to the Sofia offices of the investigative services. The Ataka leader was accompanied by MP Dessislav Chukulov, who also faces criminal charges and is subject to arrest, and by Siderov’s lawyer, Ataka MP Yavor Notev, as well as the mother of Siderov’s child, Denitsa Gadzheva.
There was a strong police presence outside the building. A group of Ataka supporters gathered, disrupting traffic. At one point, police warned the Ataka supporters to disperse, saying that their gathering was illegal. The Ataka supporters carried party banners, Bulgarian and Russian flags.
Reporters at the scene said that Siderov had told his companions that he would go on a hunger strike, refusing food and water.
On November 20, Sofia City Council is expected to rule on an application by prosecutors to remand Siderov and Chukolov into permanent custody pending the outcome of their trials.
Siderov, before being taken into custody, told the crowd of supporters – who had been chanting, “Volen is a hero”, “Attack”, and “Victory” – that the authorities had decided on the date of his arrest on the basis that it was two months since his son, Volen, was born.
Siderov told the crowd, “The dictatorship of (Prime Minister Boiko) Borissov and (Prosecutor-General Sotir) Tsatsarov will fall soon. Very soon there will be a geopolitical earthquake and they will lose power.” The “day of retribution” would follow, the Ataka leader said.
He repeated his allegation that the United States ambassador had ordered Borissov and Tsatsarov to destroy him. Siderov went on to add another “explanation” for his arrest, that he had proposed constitutional amendments to limit the powers and term of office of the Prosecutor-General.
Statements of this kind are not unusual for Siderov, whose pro-Russian party is one of the two smallest in the Bulgarian Parliament and which in the October municipal elections garnered barely three per cent of support nationally.
Recent reports quoted Siderov as denying that the Paris terrorist attacks of November 13 actually took place. He described them as a “manipulation”. In previous years, human rights groups have alleged that books under Siderov’s authorship are anti-Semitic. He is also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, wants Bulgaria to leave Nato, accuses the United States of being a colonial power in Bulgaria, while his party sent observers to “elections” in parts of Ukraine illegally annexed by Russia. Siderov also has alleged that Turkey and its secret service are conspiring to take over Bulgaria and restore the Ottoman Empire.
Siderov has been in the news in Bulgaria in recent weeks largely for his behaviour in a number of incidents in central Sofia, which in turn have led to the criminal charges against him and Chukolov.
His arrest, authorised by Parliament at the request of the Prosecutor-General, is in connection with an incident on October 25 in which he, Chukolov and others – including Ataka MP Iliyan Todorov, who is not facing charges, intruded into the National Academy for Film and Theatre Arts.
Allegations are that after the Ataka group entered the building, disrupting classes and rehearsals, they used abusive language towards the students, calling them “drug addicts”, “stupid actors who will play in stupid Bulgarian TV series”, “fruitcakes” and “faggots”.
It is alleged that in the course of Siderov’s episode at the theatre academy, he wrestled from a female student the phone she was using to film him, injuring her wrist in the process. The Ataka group forced the student to delete the footage.
Siderov, who denies wrongdoing, could face prison for up to five years if found guilty on the hooliganism charge. On the coercion charge arising from the mobile phone incident, he could face six years in jail if found guilty.
Before two successive incidents at the theatre academy – the second of which ended in Siderov being struck on the cheek by a bystander, then escorted in a police car from the scene as an angry crowd gathered while the event was being shown live on television – Siderov and Chukolov also were involved in a late-night confrontation earlier in October with owners and shop assistants at a liquor and cigarette shop.
Siderov has alleged that he and the Ataka group went there because the shop was “selling contraband”. At the time of the incident, an immediate check by police found no contraband. Reports have quoted eyewitnesses as alleging that Siderov and Chukolov appeared to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. The two face charges of hooliganism and assault in connection with the shop incident. They deny wrongdoing.