Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of government officials employing degrading treatment. A 2017 analysis by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Bulgarian Helsinki Committee indicated that more than 40 percent of the jail population complained of physical injuries and illegal arrests, while 16 percent alleged forced interrogations. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee continued to criticize the Interior Ministry for not collecting or tracking information on police brutality and for lacking an efficient mechanism for investigating and punishing offending officials. According to the NGO, physical abuse of detainees by police was widespread and disproportionately affected Romani suspects.
There were reports that police physically mistreated migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the border into the country (see section 2.d., Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons).
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in most prisons were harsh, with problems including violence against inmates by prison staff; overcrowding; prison staff corruption; and inadequate sanitary, living, and medical facilities.
In the report published on May 4 following its visit in 2017, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted that interprisoner violence remained a serious problem. The CPT claimed there was a “slight improvement” regarding the severity of alleged mistreatment of persons in police custody, but the number of allegations of physical abuse remained high in police detention centers, migrant detention facilities, and psychiatric establishments.
Physical Conditions: Most prison facilities dated from the early 1900s. In its report the CPT noted “evidence of refurbishment in almost all penitentiary establishments visited” but described the situation in the detention facility in Sliven and the foreign prisoner section of Sofia prison as “totally unacceptable.” The CPT identified a “severe problem of generalized infestation” by bed bugs in all penitentiary facilities as well as “inhuman and degrading conditions” in some institutions for persons with disabilities.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee identified several additional problems, including poor access to health care and its poor quality wherever available, insufficient access to work, poor working conditions, and prison corruption.
The law provides for the establishment of closed-type centers or designation of closed-type areas within a reception center for confinement in isolation of migrants who disturbed the internal order.
The government ombudsman reported cases of police and prison authorities applying excessive force and abusing detainees and prisoners in detention centers and in the prison in Sofia, and a lack of effective administrative response to such abuses. In a report to the justice minister, the ombudsman criticized authorities for their continued unnecessary use of handcuffs despite the ombudsman’s recommendation against the practice in 2016-17. According to the report, detention center authorities handcuffed more than 300 detainees during their daily walks.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee criticized the prison administration for not performing medical examinations on detainees following reports of police abuse and for rarely punishing offending officers. According to the ombudsman, prison authorities continued to use handcuffs when prisoners were hospitalized in a general hospital, following illegal instructions issued by the heads of the penitentiary institutions.
The ombudsman expressed concern that prison administrations consistently denied prisoners access to education and criticized the lack of adequate light in detention centers, as well as inadequate stocks of bed linen and food, which sometimes left detainees without food for 24 hours. The ombudsman also reported that detention centers for unlawful migrants did not provide adequate accommodation for families with children. The ombudsman criticized conditions in the detention centers for having poor hygiene, poor lighting, high humidity, and inadequate access to fresh air.
Human rights activists accused the prison administration of suppressing the activity of the Bulgarian Prisoner Association, an NGO founded by inmates to advocate for prisoner rights, by confiscating applications for membership and punishing and physically abusing its members.
Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of mistreatment. The prison administration dismissed nearly half of the received complaints as groundless and took action on 12 percent of them. According to the CPT, the prison system suffered serious corruption and staffing issues, particularly with regard to health-care personnel. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee reported that medical personnel did not report all cases of violence against prisoners by custodial staff to the prosecution service.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring of prisons by independent nongovernmental observers. According to the concluding observations of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Committee against Torture’s sixth periodic report (issued in December 2017), the country’s Office of Ombudsman was not sufficiently equipped to fulfill its mandate as national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Improvements: As of September the government refurbished the prison facility in Vratsa with a separate facility for juvenile offenders, who were moved from Boychinovtsi in mid-August.