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Bulgaria: Whole life prisoner wants human rights sanction for strict regime

A Bulgarian convict, serving life without the possibility of parole, hopes judges will condemn his strict prison regime, involving isolation, as a human rights abuse.

The European Court of Human Rights’ ruling in the complaint Halil Adem Hasan v. Bulgaria (application no. 4374/05) is expected on Tuesday 10 March.

The applicant, Halil Adem Hasan, is a Bulgarian national who was born in 1973 and 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. He 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 on Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights, Hasan alleges that the conditions of his detention in Lovech and Varna Prisons are /were inhuman and degrading, notably on account of the strict prison regime in which he is / has 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, Hasan complains that he does not have effective remedies under national law with which to complain about the prison regime or conditions he is held in. Furthermore, under Article 8 (right to respect for correspondence), he alleges that the prison authorities systematically monitored his correspondence with his lawyer while he was held in Varna Prison.

Lastly, he complains under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 3 about the racial insults he was subjected to by the Varna prison authorities and one of the prison officers.

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