Bulgaria: Jock Palfreeman denied parole

Last week in Sofia, Bulgaria, 32-year-old anti-fascist Jock Palfreeman was denied parole on his 20-year prison sentence for murder. Jock was convicted in 2009 of the stabbing murder of Andrei Monov and the attempted murder of Anton Zahariev. The death occurred after Jock went to the aid of two Roma boys who were being attacked by a racist gang in Sofia in December 2007; he has now spent over 11 years behind bars as a result. All appeals against the conviction and sentence — along with attempts to convince Bulgarian authorities to allow him to serve the rest of his sentence in Australia — have failed, and it seems likely that Jock will not be released until the full 20-year sentence has been served.

Coming to terms with serving such a lengthy sentence in a foreign country is obviously a difficult matter, but during the course of his incarceration Jock has remained politically-active. Thus Jock has been an outspoken prisoners’ rights advocate throughout his term and in 2012 Jock was instrumental in establishing the ‘Bulgarian Prisoners’  Rehabilitation Association’ (BPRA), the first organisation of its kind in the country. In 2015 he was even nominated for a human rights award for his work in this field. Despite operating within a very hostile political environment, Jock’s work and that of the BPRA has nonetheless won recognition and support by some outside Sofia prison’s walls, and it’s hoped that reform within the prison system might be accompanied by positive changes outside of it — as unlikely as that may presently seem.

While far from being a household name in his native Australia, Jock’s case has received some media coverage, including on two ABC-TV shows (‘Australian Story’ in 2011 and ‘Foreign Correspondent’ in 2009) and is the subject of a 2013 book, Every Parent’s Nightmare, by journalist Belinda Hawkins. Green Left Weekly has also been following the case, and regularly provides updates. In addition, a small number of activists in Australia continue to to take action to support Jock and the BPRA, and merchandise produced by and for the union is often seen on display at various anti-fascist and anti-racist events across the country. Before his  death, veteran Australian-Bulgarian anarchist Jack Granchraoff  (1925–2016) also expressed support for Jock. 

Outside of Australia, Brighton ABC and other groups and networks have been supporting Jock, and in 2014 anti-fascists in the United States organised ‘A Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoner Jock Palfreeman’ (July 25); the following year, this became the ‘International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners’, drawing attention to Jock’s case along with those of dozens of other imprisoned anti-fascists. 

The court’s decision to deny Jock parole was preceded in April by his taking part in a hunger-strike in order to protest maltreatment at the hands of prison authorities. The strike ended in May after 33 days. According to one report:

Palfreeman’s lawyer Kalin Angelov said the hunger strike had been in response to Bulgarian authorities cracking down on the Australian for exposing corruption in the country’s prison system and the abuse of inmates.

Mr Angelov said Palfreeman had been a model inmate with a completely clean record, until a new national government was elected in May 2017. The incoming administration then began to systematically wind back his privileges, his lawyer said.

Mr Angelov said his client had been sacked from his prison job, banned from receiving visitors and denied access to phone cards to contact the outside world.

This was not the first time Jock and of course other prisoners have been punished by authorities for trying to improve their conditions, and/or to address abuse and corruption within the prison system. Bulgaria itself is known as being both the poorest and the ‘most corrupt’ country in the European Union, with a small but significant far-right movement,  including government parties, organised under the umbrella of the ‘United Patriots’. (Oddly enough, the defunct Australian far-right groupuscule the ‘United Patriots Front’ helped inspire the Christchurch killer Brenton Tarrant, whose activities in Bulgaria remain the subject of investigation.)

When I wrote about Jock in 2012 I concluded that:

Jock’s case is an important one for anarchists and other anti-fascists to publicise as part of ongoing efforts to combat the rising tide of racism and fascism within Bulgaria and Europe as a whole. Jock’s actions were informed by a sense of solidarity, one which transcends ethnic boundaries and national borders, and his punishment is a register of the perverted nature of criminal justice in capitalist society.

The situation for anti-fascists in Europe has not improved since then, with waves of repression in Russia and elsewhere, a range of far-right parties in government, and mass mobilisations of the far-right a common occurrence. In these circumstances, there will likely be many more anti-fascists in trouble in future, and our solidarity with their plight will be critical to our success in fighting back and creating a worthwhile future.

Andy Fleming