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Bulgaria: Lifer’s strict prison regime breaches human rights law, say judges

Judges ruled today that the strict prison regime imposed on a Bulgarian life prisoner is a violation of his human rights.

In the complaint Halil Adem Hasan v. Bulgaria (application no. 4374/05), the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a :

Violation of Article 3 (inhuman and degrading treatment)
Violation of Article 13 taken in conjunction with Article 3
Violation of Article 8

As Just satisfaction, the court awarded 4,000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 1,102 in respect of costs and expenses to the applicant Halil Adem Hasan, a Bulgarian national, who is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment without parole in Lovech Prison (Bulgaria).

Hasan has been sentenced 11 times at the end of different sets of criminal proceedings. In particular, he was convicted in October 2000 of robbery and murder and sentenced to a cumulated punishment of life imprisonment without parole. He has since been serving his sentence in either Lovech or Varna Prisons. In Bulgaria life prisoners, such as Hasan, are automatically placed under a heightened security regime and are kept in permanently locked cells.

Hasan has lodged two sets of proceedings for damages before the courts concerning his detention conditions (including inadequate toilet facilities, meaning he had to relieve himself in a bucket when in his cell, as well as poor ventilation, heating, hygiene, food and medical care) and the strict regime. His claims were rejected in final decisions by the Supreme Court of Cassation in May 2008 and February 2009, respectively, which found that such conditions of detention were not unlawful under domestic law.

In recent years, apart from certain improvements (in particular, toilets and sinks were built in Lovech Prison in autumn 2008), there have been no significant changes in Hasan’s conditions of detention.

Hasan also made a complaint to the prosecuting authorities that, a Muslim of Turkish origin, he was regularly subjected to racial insults by the Varna prison authorities and in particular by one of the prison officers.

In February 2005, the prosecuting authorities refused to open criminal proceedings against the officer concerned, finding that Hasan should have brought a private criminal complaint before the courts.

Relying in particular on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Hasan alleged that the conditions of his detention in Lovech and Varna Prisons had been inhuman and degrading, notably on account of the strict prison regime in which he had been held in both prisons without human contact or the possibility of activity outside
of his cell.

Also relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 3, he complained that he did not have effective remedies under national law with which to complain about the prison regime or conditions in which he was held.

Furthermore, under Article 8 (right to respect for correspondence), he alleged that the prison authorities had systematically monitored his correspondence with his lawyer while he had been held in Varna Prison.

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