Police violence video triggers uproar in Bulgaria

A new video of Bulgarian police kicking and punching handcuffed detainees during anti-corruption protests last year is turning into a major test of whether the country’s investigation into police brutality at the time was a whitewash.

Bulgarian parliamentarians condemned  the police violence in an urgent session on Tuesday and called for a new report into the events of last summer.

Last July, thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chief Prosector Ivan Geshev. Only on Friday, however, did parliamentarians see surveillance camera footage from July 10 of police officers dragging demonstrators under the arches of a government building, where they repeatedly struck them before loading them into a police van. The footage triggered immediate national outrage.

Despite earlier reports of police brutality during last year’s protests, the interior ministry under the previous government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and other investigators found no evidence of use of excessive force used by the police.

One of the big questions being posed now is whether the footage seen by lawmakers on Friday was used in that investigation that found no excessive use of force. No clear answers emerged in Tuesday’s session.

Boyko Rashkov, interior minister from the caretaker government that took over in May, told lawmakers the footage was requested by a unit of the Sofia police department tasked to investigate its own employees. Later, prosecutors closed the case due to lack of evidence, Rashkov said, adding that some of the officers who took part in the beating hadn’t been identified a year after the incident. 

“Everything was known back then,” Rashkov said. “You should ask the then minister whether this recording has been hidden or not.” 

Last summer, Mladen Marinov and Hristo Terziiski both served as interior ministers in Borissov’s Cabinet. Currently, they are both members of parliament from his center-right GERB party. Neither man spoke in Tuesday’s debate but Marinov talked to journalists and apologized to the victims of police violence but stressed that no video footage had been covered up.

This signaled a change of heart in his position since Marinov had previously said that during the protests he had only witnessed police officers being beaten but not demonstrators. 

Antoaneta Tsoneva of Democratic Bulgaria, a small anti-corruption party, told Marinov and Terziiski, that they needed to step down as MPs.

“You could not bring yourself to apologize to the young people you had beaten. Resign now, so you and your party can keep face,” she said.

Terziiski saw political motives behind the criticism and calls for resignations. 

“I’m pleased that Mr. Marinov and I are targets of the attack for police violence. Bulgarian police should not be used and abused for political gain.”

Rashkov added the investigation had so far been superficial and did not take into account all the existing evidence. “This casts doubts about the objectivity regarding the type and severity of the punishments,” he said, referring to the fact that so far some police officers had been only sanctioned with a written warning. 

The lawmakers also called on Chief Prosecutor Geshev to submit a report on the investigation of police aggression during the protests last summer. That puts Bulgaria in the surreal position of having the man who was a chief target of the protesters being called on to audit the investigation into violence against those same protesters.

After a three-hour-long debate, the parliamentarians adopted a statement calling the police brutality “a disgraceful act of inhumane and humiliating treatment” and issued an apology to the victims of police aggression.



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