Paul ‘Jock’ Palfreeman is a 25-year-old Australian (born November 13, 1986) currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Sofia, Bulgaria. An anarchist and anti-fascist, one night in Sofia in December 2007 Jock intervened to stop a racist assault. As a result, one man died, and despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Jock was convicted of the crime of ‘murder with hooliganism’. Jock’s story is a compelling one, and there is an ongoing international campaign to free him: a day of action is taking place on March 15.
Originally from Sydney, Jock left Australia for Europe in 2006. Having spent most of 2007 in the UK, in December Jock travelled to Bulgaria, where he had previously spent many months working. On the night of December 28, 2007 Jock was celebrating with a small group of friends in the capital Sofia when he witnessed a large group of football hooligans assault two Roma men. When Jock intervened in an attempt to stop the assault, the gang turned on him. In the ensuing melee, one of the gang, Andrey Monov, was stabbed and later died on the way to hospital.
Arrested on the night of the incident, Jock was charged with murder and attempted murder. His trial commenced in May 2008. In December 2009, after numerous delays, Jock was found guilty of the murder of 20-year-old law student Monov and the attempted murder of 19-year-old Antoan Zahariev. In addition to a prison term, Jock was also fined 400,000 leva (approximately $A325,000). Subsequent appeals have failed to either overturn the verdict or reduce the sentence, and Jock’s final avenue of legal redress is the European Court of Human Rights— a very difficult, lengthy and expensive process.
From the beginning, Jock has always maintained that he acted in self-defence. “When I saw the 15 men attack the two homeless men, I was presented with a choice. Stand back and let the injustice continue or [intervene] in an attempt to save human life” (February 2011). While elsewhere in Europe ‘hooliganism’ is a term used to downplay fascist abuses, in Jock’s case it serves to rob his action of political meaning.
There are numerous other reasons to question the verdict in Jock’s case, a useful summary of which has been provided by Jock’s father Dr Simon Palfreeman who—through a quirk in the Bulgarian judicial system—was able to join Jock’s defence team. Aside from motivation—the prosecution claimed Jock is a violent psychotic—the central flaws in the prosecution case are conflicting eyewitness testimonies, the disappearance of crucial CCTV footage, and numerous procedural irregularities.
Andrey’s father is a well-known and influential figure in Bulgarian society, and Bulgaria’s justice system has a deserved and well-documented reputation for corruption. Many police officers, judges and politicians attended Monov’s funeral, and the overall legal, political and social context for the trial has been overwhelmingly hostile to the defence.
Jock’s case has received considerable coverage in Australia and been the subject of two ABC television documentaries, the most recent (‘Conviction’) broadcast in June 2011 and the earlier account (‘One Night in Sofia’) in June 2009 (both available for viewing online and highly-recommended). When Jock was first charged, a false story was circulated claiming that he had previously stabbed a man in Sydney; later, it was falsely reported that the dead man, Monov, had been stabbed in the back.
Within Bulgaria, the media reportage has been almost universally hostile, and Jock portrayed as being psychologically unbalanced; a psychological report conducted by the court concluded that he is neither violent nor aggressive and on the contrary possesses a highly-developed sense of social justice.
There have been sporadic attempts to publicise Jock’s case in Europe and Australia (most recently with a banner drop in Sydney over NYE 2011) and an international day of action was held in October 2010 with events organised in Australia, Austria, France and Russia. Support for Jock within Bulgaria appears to be minimal, and public expressions of same dangerous for those concerned: the far right has held public demonstrations condemning Jock and threatened violent retaliation against any who dare to publicly oppose them. This hostile political climate helps to explain the position of the Federation of Anarchists in Bulgaria, which has denounced Jock and in response to his trial called for the maximum penalty to be imposed upon him.
The fact that the two men on whose behalf Jock attempted to intervene are Roma is significant, both because the police were unable to locate them to act as witnesses but also because harnessing widespread anti-Roma sentiment is a key mobilising strategy for the far right in Bulgaria, especially the Attack party. In September 2011, anti-Roma pogroms took place in Bulgaria, The New York Times reporting that protesters shouted racist slogans like “Gypsies into soap” and “Turks under the knife.”
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. Jock welcomes correspondence and may be reached at Sofia Central Prison, 21 General Stoletov Boulevard, Sofia 1309, BULGARIA. Further information on his case may be found at freejock.com.
[Published in Freedom newspaper, March 12, 2012.]