Saturday, February 13, 2010

Prison by any other name

The above videos are from the documentary The Bulgarian Guanatanamo, by Bulgarian journalist Ivan Kulekov. It was aired on Jan. 5, 2009 during the Slavi's Show on BTV Channel. I learned about the documentary and these videos from Svetla Encheva's post The Bulgarian Guantanamo - the silence of media and bloggers. If you are a person concerned with human rights in the EU, I strongly advise you to watch the videos. The documentary highlights the arbitrary detenion of foreigners, and human rights problems in Bulgaria are solved either by strong outside pressure or not at all. Most of what is said is not in English, so for readers who speak no Bulgarian, and also for those whose connection does not allow watching videos on the Web, I am providing below a sort of a transcript.

In the beginning of the first video, the caption "Slavi's Show" appears. The host of this TV show, Slavi Trifonov (bald, with glasses, in a suit), introduces Ivan Kulekov (with grey hair, in black jacket and black T-shirt). Kulekov talks about documentary he has made: "In a beautifully-looking from outside building in the Busmanci district of Sofia, people are kept imprisoned on an order by the secret services. These are people whose visas and identity documents are lost or expired, or who are in Bulgaria illegally, or are concerned a threat to national security. In this facility, the laws valid for Bulgarian citizens are not valid."

Then the documentary begins. A label appears, "Ministry of Interior, Immigration Directorate". The camera moves backwards and shows a tall fence with barbed wire on top. Kulekov's voice-over clarifies that this is the so-called Home for temporary accommodation of foreigners (Bulg. Dom za vremenno nastanyavane na chuzhdentsi) in the district of Busmanci.

We see a room overcrowded with men. One of them complains that the room is kept locked all night, then is unlocked at 7 AM, but only for a short time. The inmates want to urinate and defecate, they are told to urinate in a bottle. The strain leads to quarrels and even fights.

The camera shows a grey-haired man in a suit - Yotko Andreev, the director of the home. He says that there are foreigners from many countries in the home and the personnel tries to distribute them in rooms in a way minimizing the strain between them, but these efforts are not always successful.

A young black-haired inmate, Javed Nuri, says, "I have seen many poor countries, poor not economically but legally, yet I have nowhere else experienced such a poor law - to be imprisoned together with people who have served sentences for murder, and with sick people."

The camera shows a room overcrowded with men. Andreev admits that in the corresponding institutions in Belgium there are 2-4 people in a room and it is supplied with running water and toilet, while in his Home there are 10-18 people in a room with no water and toilet.

An old woman with glasses says in Russian that she has been caught at the airport with a false Lithuanian passport. Kulekov asks her whether she had known it was false and she answers, "Yes, I bought it". The camera shows two younger women flanking her, each hugging a child; one of them is wearing a headscarf. The Russian woman complains that there are no conditions in the Home. Asked what conditions she had expected, she answers, "(I wish) at least that they give people toilet paper!"

The camera shows a dark-haired woman - Valeria Ilareva, a lawyer. She says, "These are people who are de facto banned from work, who cannot even leave our country. There are many persons from the former Soviet Union who now have nowhere to return - no country would accept them. There is a man who have been kept in Busmanci for 3 years and has now been detained there for a second time. They have nowhere to deport him to, he has no country to return. He has come to Bulgaria back in the days when there was Soviet Union."

Andreev says, "Another group of foreigners who are sent to the Home are those who have served prison sentences but owe money to Bulgarian government. Until their cases are clarified, we keep them in the Home."

A black, bald man says in English, "Even if we have offended and maybe we have no documents to be in the country, at least they could listen to us and consider us. Now, we are here for almost one year. I came legally with a visa but the visa expired, so I cannot go back to my country. That is why I am here, and most of people are here."

A man from Syria (I think, the same who complained from the locked room) says, "I am here because my passport expired." Asked for how long he has lived in Bulgaria, he answers, "For 15 years. Married, with four children."

The camera shows him behind a window with bars, holding two of the children - boys who look about 3 and 1 year old, the younger one holding a rattle. Then we see four children in a room. I am not sure whether they are all his children - they seem too close in age to be from one family. They are three boys and a girl, all look younger than 5. There are matresses and toys scattered on the floor. A toddler is playing with a large cardbox, going into and out of it.

Then a headscarved woman talkes, with a 5-6-year old boy by her side. I cannot say whether she is the Syrian man's wife, and whether she is the same whom we saw earlier next to the Russian woman. She says in English, "No, I don't know how much I will stay here. Why we are here... We have children here. They want to help us, I see. They make a room for the children, they ask "What do you want?", they give clothes now. But I don't know. May be (to) live here (is) nice, the best for our (children?), I don't know." A toddler waves his rattle to the camera.

A middle-aged man - Dr. Ibrahim Dogmush, asks, "What is the fault of this child, the one you have photographed, to be in prison?"

The camera shows Nuri again. Kulekov's voice over, "Motivated by desparation and as a sign of protest against his arbitrary detention by the secret services, on Aug. 24, 2006 Javed Nuri covered himself in bedsheets and set himself on fire."

Nuri continues the tale himself, "I decided that death is better than living in such suffering. The deputy director of Busmanci came and said, "We cannot forget (?) people who have set themselves on fire." And then they threw me into the isolator. I was injured, my legs were black. It was called Three days had passed from my surgery and they threw me into that room without a bed, without bedsheets. To throw there an ill person - this doesn't happen even at Guantanamo."

The camera shows a man behind bars; his name is Tariq Adilsami. He talks in English.

"Where do you come from?", Kulekov asks.


"Why are you here?"

"Because I don't have documents... I do not know why they brought me here. I have (made) no problems, I do not have any problems here. They keep me here for more than a month. Why?"

"Why did you choose to come to Bulgaria?"

"Somebody told me Bulgaria is a country in Europe."

Here, the first video ends and the second one begins.

"For how long will you stay here?"

"I don't know. People don't give me how long time I'll spend here, don't speak with me... I want my rights here, in Bulgaria. I want my rights, but they don't give me my rights."

"Have you a lawyer?"

"I speak with somebody for a lawyer, but I'm waiting now for months and no one comes to see me."

Andreev: "The idea is not to keep the person long in this building, but to achieve the (authorities's) goals, to talk with the foreigner in the meantime (while he is detained) so that he realizes he has made a mistake."

Ilareva: "In countries that have rule of law, it provides efficient guarantees against abuse of power. Decisions are not left to the discretion of those who hold power, but must be inside clear frames given by the law."

Andreev: "The case with Sid Kazdoev, who identifies himself as a Chechen, is very sensitive for our Home. He has been kept at Block No. 3 (presumably a punitive isolator - M.M.) for a long period. I have been Director of this Home for 3 months (and I cannot be responsible for what has happened before). The reason to keep Kazdoev in this block for so long is that my predecessor has decided so. He thought it was best for security of other inmates and of Kazdoev himself to hold him there for a longer time. (Kulekov asks for how long.) More than 7 months.

Ilareva reminds that the maximum length of isolation as a disciplinary measure in prisons is 14 days.

A young black man with glasses in an orange jacket, whose name is Oladotun Ibitui, says, "They say it is not a prison, but unfortunately it is a prison. I was ready for everything, even to die there. Because they do not tell you for how long they will keep you there."

Ilareva: "In Spain, illegal immigrants cannot be detained for more than 40 days."

A middle-aged black man with a blue hat named Qassim Usi Machanoh, in a very muserable shelter: "I have been in Busmanci for 2 years and 5 months... as a prisoner, and worse than a prisoner. I have been here for a year and a half. I have no right to work, no right at anything... No help from anywhere. Should I become a thief? (Asked whether he believes) I used to believe, I don't know anymore... I lose my faith... I was born Muslim but I realized that everybody has the right to choose his religion. I don't know anymore whether I am a Muslim or a Christian. I go to churches, I go everywhere, people pray to one and the same God..."

Ibitui again: "I was there for 1 year and 4 months. The authorities only waited until I turned 18 to say that I was illegal, have no right to live in Bulgaria and must go back to the monkeys in Africa. "We will send you back to Africa where the monkeys are." In my country - Nigeria, there are 1500 Bulgarians."

Nuri: "If somebody is a threat for national security, he must be charged. Evidence must be presented, and he must be tried. And then go to prison, not to a Home for temporary accommodation of foreigners."

Ibitui: "My father - what happened to him? A healthy man, never had any problems, never complained of anything. They kept him detained for 7 months. Then the doctor measured high blood pressure. They did not want him to die at their hands, so they released him. They released him at the 8th month, and he died at the 9th month. One month later, a Syrian man died at their hands."

Andreev (apparently commenting the Syrian's death): "It was the result of (stomach) ulcer hemorrhage - a natural death."

A bearded man named Ahmed Bethaush talking from behind bars in English, "I am here because I am ill. This is a hospital. I have been here for 4 months, because I don't have money to go to my country..."

"Have you made any offence?"

"No, I have done nothing, just don't have any documents."

"For how long will you stay in Busmanci?"

"One year, two years..."

"Why did you escape from Algeria?"

"I need to go to Algeria. I like Algeria. I speak to the boss that I need to go to Algeria. But they say there is no plane or no money, I don't know... This is a problem of Busmanci."

Ilareva: "It is not about the Arabs at all. It is about basic human rights to which every human beings is entitled just because of the fact of being human. Regardless of whether he has documents or not, to what religion or nationality he belongs... If we allow foreigners to be detained withour court, maybe in the near future the same will happen to Bulgarian citizens."

Nuri: "The word "dom" (home) is a nice word, everybody wants to be at home, but for me it now means things so terrible that I do not want to remember them, so I would wish never to hear this word again."

The last footage from the Busmanci institution is the face of a toddler looking close at the camera.

Closing words of Kulekov: "Dear viewers, it turns out it is legal to imprison somebody just because he has contracted tuberculosis. Everything happening at Busmanci is legal. It is legal to send a person behind bars just because one or two secret service officers have suggested so, and to keep him imprisoned for years. It is legal to keep immigrants and refugees for 15-20 years without permit to work and study because buraucrats have not solved their cases. Bulgaria is the only European country without provision for amnesty of immigrants, but this is legal here. There are such antihuman laws in action."

Update Feb. 20: Svetla Encheva reports that the inmates in Busmanci are now protesting, at least 25 of them are on hunger strike. Her Feb. 19 post includes a video showing the protest from outside. Allegations of corruptions are discussed - foreigners claim to have been told that they must give bribes to obtain favourable decision on their status, identical cases are solved differently and nobody explains why.