Interview with Jock Palfreeman
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what lead you up to the situation you are in now?
I’m Jock Palfreeman, now 27, almost 7 years imprisoned in Bulgaria’s Sofia Central Prison with a 20 years sentence. I was hiding from a group of 15 neo-nazis just after midnight in Sofia Bulgaria when I saw them shout out the Bulgarian version of “Nigger” and chase and beat 2 Roma men. Then I ran to protect the two Roma men and the neo-nazis attacked me, one of the neo-nazis was killed and his father is a politician for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the minuets with kicks, hits and throwing cement blocks at my head, before any of them were injured. I was convicted of murder and attempted murder, motivation to offend the Bulgarian society.
Yes, I was lucky and only spent 4 month in a remand jail and then I was transferred to Sofia General Prison where I have been since 2008.
Did your case get a lot of media attention when it happened?
Yes there was an absurd amount of negative media attention, mostly from Bulgarian press that was then copied by the world press and specifically Australian press as I was born and raised in Australia, although I do not identify myself as Australian. Most of what the Bulgarian press was publishing was total fabrication and this was done purposefully so as to allow the courts to come to such ridiculous conclusion that I alone attacked 15 neo-nazis for the sole purpose of killing them all. The media in Bulgaria is influenced by the same people who influence the courts and so it isn’t a cause and effect that the media influences the courts, rather they work in parallel so as the courts decisions will be more publicly accepted as there is an expectance of the verdict created already in the press. People who are obviously guilty are portrayed as innocent victims in the press allowing for them to bribe their way out or as in my situation the media clears the way for the court to rule what would be without media support completely unacceptable. The Bulgarian media never once published the truth as dictated by the facts of the case. The closest to being “objective” was an artivle that said “the prosecutor wants a life sentence for killing a man and Jock says he’s innocent” but no actual facts from the case. Interestingly enough the court was always full of media taking notes, so I think they just realized there was absolutely no favorable evidence (for the nationalists) to use against med from the hearing.
However this does not mean that it was a difficult job to run a smear campaign in the Bulgarian press, there is an overwhelming nationalist dominance in the Bulgarian media and unfortunately the only 1 or 2 serios publication were too afraid to really go in depth into my case so this vacuum and lack of defence gave free reign to the most absolutely outrageous slander. There might have been a counter argument in English, but to this day my case has never been covered properly or fully in Bulgarian language, It is also amportant to note that the politician Hristo Monov the father of the dead neo-nazi was a type of freelance journalist for one of the largest newspaper and there are also some direct family members of the dead neo-nazi who work for Bulgarian media.
The Bulgarian media was so hostile it lost any façade of being objective and even purposefully edited a video of a friend of mine from YouTube hitting a snowman to claim it was me. The Bulgarian newspaper cut freeze frames from the video so as not to see the face of my friend who is actually unmistakably not me as he is black. But as he is all wrapped up in gear it is only at the end of the video when he turns around that you can see his face. One of the most destructive fabrications from the Bulgarian media that was just copied and passed by the Australian media was that the neo-nazi was stabbed in the back, the claim then was “how could it be self-defense” of course he wasn´t stabbed in the back and there is no mention of this in the case or anywhere other in the media. The main victory of the media smear campaign was to disconnect the reality from the present outcome, that in isolation from the fact “Jock murdered a young Bulgarian who was minding his own business as he casually walked down the street”. However the truth is much more violence and vicious, where 15 neo-nazis brutally beats a Roma simply as he had black skin, after I defended the Roma they proceeded to beat me for about 12 minutes, after I took the knife out and held it above my head to warn them, they threw rocks at med, many hitting me on the head an I was knocked out at least twice long before 1 of the 15 neo-nazis died. 12 minutes is 4rounds of boxing, 1 vs 15. So that was a major victory of the press to forget the other 14 neo-nazis as if the dead neo-nazi was alone.
And have all the focus been on you and that you are a “psychopathic and communist/anarchist? Or have any media focused on your case objectively?
As I said before, no Bulgarian media has ever focused on my ease objectively and they’re just not interested. Most Bulgarians don’t like foreigners and don’t like Roma and so who in Bulgaria would care about a foreigner defending a Roma. As far as nationalists are concerned I should be in prison just for helping a Roma, forget fair trial or not. Forget who attacked who, I am seen as an evil foreigner who was meddling in a Bulgarian “problem” as they call the Roma here.
The media’s coverage is actually pretty funny. Right when I was arrested it was reported that “Jock is an anarchist with the nickname ´Lenin’”. They then published the article with a photo of me in my school uniform from Australia and claimed it was the uniform of the organization I was a member of. Obviously I don’t need to explain the in the irony of being an “anarchist called Lenin”, also ironic, the school uniform I was wearing in the photo they used is from a very right wing and conservative military school. So I had a good laugh at that, the uniform of a right wing school, anarchist named Lenin!
Right from the beginning they stayed far away from labelling me a communist or socialist and they went straight to ‘anarchist’. Ironically there is still a lot of sympathy for the old communist party and the new ”socialist” party of Bulgaria and so it would have been counterproductive to the goals of the media to have labelled me as such and so although I have never claimed to be an anarchist they went with that label I order to socially marginalize me. The ironies continue as the father of the neo-nazi is a politician for the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The irony being that many neo-nazis are actually affiliated with the BSP, although of course they call themselves “patriots” with the slogan “Bulgaria for Bulgarians” that the father of course is the dead neo-nazi actually said in court “my son was like me he believed in Bulgaria for Bulgarians”.
How was your trial and how do you look upon it now?
My trial was surreal especially in comparison to the outcome. To everyone who was in court it was beyond proven that the group of 15 neo-nazis attacked I Roma and then attack me when I defended the Roma. All the neutral witnesses confirmed my version of events. There Is also a partial video, which is actually how we know the assault went for about 12 minutes due the camera’s video timer. There are just too many funny things to mention here, an example of one is that the neo-nazis had been coached as to how to lie, for example one of the neo-nazis right in the very beginning testified in court that “Jock was wearing blue jeans, black jumper, boots and braces” he was spot on. I was wearing 2 pairs of pants as it was so cold, on top of my blue jeans I was wearing black cargo pants and over my black jumper I was wearing a black bomber jacket and of course you can never see braces which I was wearing under the jumper and jacket. So it struck me in court, only 2 groups of people know I was wearing these clothes, me and the police and later reflecting I narrowed it down even further to the police from the second rotation shift as the arresting police knew I was wearing black pants and a jacket. The black pants and jacket were taken by the forensic doctors and so I was left in the blue jeans and jumper I had on under the confiscated clothes. The braces were confiscated by the police as protocol to prevent suicides. So that was the very first hearing in a court and from such a simple thing as braces it became obvious that the police were coaching the witnesses as to what to say.
Also there was a video file that went missing from the Ministry of Health and the police and prosecutor came up with lots of different excuses why they wouldn’t even look for it. Despite all the official documents stating that the police refuses to even obtain the video footage a witness came from the Minitry of Health office and he testified that “the police came the same morning of the incident and confiscated the video footage” and there was total silence in court. You could hear a pin drop and everyone was just in shock, there was lots of agitation from the side of the prosecutor which also had lawyers representing the family of the dead neo-nazi and a lawyer representing one of the injured neo-nazis. That was when it became official for me that the entire process was a farce, when the witness from the Ministry of Health contradicted the police report and said that they DID take the video footage.
Both the original prosecutor from my trial and the presiding judge have been embroiled in numerous corruption allegation amidst fast promotions the presiding judge from the first trial is now the head of the supreme administrative court and the head judge of Bulgaria, from 2008-2009 there were about 4 famously scandalous decisions that my judge made, mine being one of theme, 3 of his decisions for major cases were overturned on appeal and mine was the only one from his top 4 major cases that was not overturned.
The prosecutor is the girlfriend of a major organized crime boss on the Black Sea and when the police went hunting for him with an arrest warrant he had been tipped off and had fled. The police were tipped off as to his whereabouts, knocked the door down and it turned out that it was the prosecutor Parvoleta’s apartment and that she was hiding him there. There were a lot of organized crime connection with the prosecutor and again at the end of last year she was accused again of being middle man in a bribing ring, bribing judges (surprise surprise). But this is also symptomatic of the Bulgarian state and it is echoed all throughout the country in every aspect of society and governmental institutions, a symbiotic relationship between the state and the organized crime. The power to actually prefer corrupt bureaucrats like my prosecutor as it is easier to control them, there is always the option to bribe them or if you have dirt to blackmail them with threat of being fired. That’s why there is no effort made to stop corruption within the state.
Did you get any support from any anti-fascists during the trial?
Not in Bulgaria. I have to start to saying that my family were and still are my biggest supporters and everyone else combined not even come close to that support. Which I am actually pretty pissed off about, that if I didn’t come from a well off family I would be even more totally fucked then I am! It is almost a total failing of the European Antifa. Even now I have sent out requests for funding the Prisoners’ Association and although we have received money and I am grateful for that, the money Is still not even close to what was needed in legal fees for my trial, not to mention the money I personally need just to live in prison. So I dread to think of how other comrades live in Eastern European prsions that don’t have families who can pay legal fees and supply money for food. The Antifa in the West must seriously step up their especially in regards to funding! There needs to be thousands of Euros comins from Western European Antifa comrades in Eastern European Antifa to Antifa comrades in Eastern Europe! Bulgaria’s Antifa is none existent with the exception of liberals, but for example the comrades in Serbia, Russia and Croatia would be a lot more effective If they had some steady funding from comrades in more affluent states. Everyone thinks that their battle is the hardest, but that bullshit, in the West there is a large Antifa community and a small fascist community, in the east is the totally reversed and the situation is much worse as the Antifa can’t get funding for activities or legal costs at the same time they’re unemployed or working for shit money that barely keeps the heating on! So there needs to be a lot more pan-European solidarity and strategy! An Osmosis of solidarity from where is it great to where it is lacking.
But that being said the people who have helped have helped to the most of their ability, right in the beginning (2008) there was a fundraiser gig in Bristol and the money raised there were to buying an illegal mobile phone which was a great help both psychologically and logistically (subsequently confiscated in 2010). There were some information meetings in Sydney and an organized protest outside the Bulgarian embassy in Athens where an Australian comrade was able to enter the embassy, speak with the staff and hand over a petition. The Consul hesitantly asked “will the anarchists bomb the embassy?” my comrade laughed and replied “not today”. In 2010 during the appeals there were pan-European solidarity demonstrations of small groups of Antifa. Then in 2010 an explosive was sent to the Bulgarian embassy in Athens from the comrade of the Conspiracy Cells of Fire as part of a mass bombing campaign in support of Prisoners of War, bombs were also sent to other embassies in support of other prisoners. The bomb was decommissioned by the Greek police but what was very interesting is although there are little to no attacks on Bulgarian embassies the media completely covered up the attacks. It wasn’t even in the Bulgarian media that there was a bomb let alone the reason for it. Most of the Antifa support came about after the trial had finished or in the end days of the appeal.
Most of the solidarity has come from Black Cross groups. Antifa groups and other anti-racist groups. Protests meetings and fundraisers have been held in Moscow-Russia (plus another Russian city I´v forgotten the name of), Wien-Austria, Paris-France, London-Bristol-Brighton-UK, Amsterdam-Hauge-Holland, Nish-Serbia,Croatia, Berlin Germany, Copenhagen-Denmark, Athens-Greece, Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane-Canberra-Australia, New York-Portland-USA and of course Stockholm-Sweden! The solidarity has been steadily increasing as more people find out about my situation, I am very grateful and I am hoping that solidarity actions will continue and at the same time raise awareness and money for the Bulgarien prisoners Association. I am grateful for all of this support and solidarity. It mean a lot to me and it actually helps keep me safe in prison, having the prison administration know that people are keeping track of me.
Can you tell us exactly what you got sentenced for?
I was sentenced for the premeditated murder of 1 and the attempted murder of 1 due to the motivation of ”hooliganism”. ”Hooliganism might seem normal in Europe, but to this day I and my family son´t rely understand what this keen. Boiled down my motivation of ”hooliganism” is something like a disrespect for social norms meaning that my motivation to kill was simply that I don´t respect society or law. Obviously this is an absurd law and the application of this law is even more absurd. As the charge of ”murder with hooligan motivations” is essentially a murder motivated by a type of nihilism one would think that some psychological expertise would be required for the court to rule accordingly . But the psychological reports submitted to the courts established that I was ”harmonious in nature, not aggressive or against social norms” and they went further to state in effect ”Jock was doing what hade become natural to him due to his upbringing from his family and school to help others”. So not only did the psychological reports reject the idea that I was an ”antisocial” they even confirmed my version of events that I was defending a Roma against group neo-nazis. Essentially I am convicted of being a type of nihilist terrorist antisocial, my crime of murder was motivated by a want to ”outrage and offend society. The sole justification for this finding is that I shouted ”fuck fascism” when the gang started attaching me. The fact that the gang had already attacked a Roma man an myself was totally ignored by the court and of course there is no explanation as how shouting ”fuck fascism” shows a motivation of wanting to offend society, the truth is that Bulgarian society is largely fascist and so by opposing fascism I am indeed offending Bulgarian society.
Can you tell us about the first day in prison? Were you mentally prepared for it? Had you any experience of prison/jail/custody before?
My only experience of police was at protests ad very short ”detention”, even as short as 10 or 15 minutes at protests in Sidney. I had never been convicted before or been to jail/prison. When I was 15 I was badly beaten by police at a protest for refugee rights in Sidney on May 1. The police beat me very badly and my blood was pooling all around me as I handcuffed on the ground. Once the police knew I was only 15 they unceremoniously threw me out of their temporary HQ. This broke any illusion I had of the police , whatever was left of the patriot inside me was stomped on by the police that day and so I only expected and prepred for the worst after I was arrested I spent most of the first day in the police station handcuffed to a handrail in the stairs leading to the basement near an open door and it was a heavy winter, the temperature was minus degrees.
I didn’t know anyone had died, I thought I was being arrested as a ploy to extort money from me which the Bulgarien police are famous for. Making up false accusations so as to extort bribes to then ”let you of”. My first concern was not telling the police where I was living as Bulgariens are very conservative and the last thing I wanted was to send the police to my friends houses for all the neighbors to see. To their credit some of the neighbors shere I had lived for some time went on TV to testify as to my good nature an character but I didn’t find out about that until almost a year later.
The police who arrested me beat me with batons until they ran out of breath, they were so fat and unfit it was actually comical and I had to try very hard not to laugh or smile at them and pretend that I was in real pain, so as not to provoke them into recovering and beating me again.
When I was taken to the remand jail I was told by the police (not the ones who beat me) ”we know you did a brave thing saving that Roma from the skinheads, we’re sorry that we have to put you in such a horrible place and we wish you all the best”. I was taken to my cell , there were two Turkish already in there one for fighting and one for illegal possession of a pistol. I spoke a little Turkish, but after a few words I just crashed on my bed and slept. I hadn’t slept for almost 2 days and I had survived an attack from 4-5 neo-nazis, police beating and handcuffed in the cold to a stairwell next to an open door. I did however sleep with my boots and cloths on as it was very cold, but mostly as I was going to be ready for anything that could happen, if the guards were going to beat med then I would be ready for them. My attitude from my first day was that I was in a hostile environment and that I would be alert an ready to defend my self, I was not afraid at all simply trying to be as prepared as possible.
I was very relaxed in my first months in custody as I believed totally in what I had done, that I had defended a victim of a race hate crime and FFS if I died in that minute I would die knowing that I lived what I believed was right. My first thought was ”man, I am going to be here a looooong time, I better get comfortable” and that was my mind set from the first minute I entered the remand, alert and comfortable. Adapt, overcome and then progress. Most people can’t believe that I was like this on my first day in jail, most people tell me how they tried to kill themselves or broke down crying or stopped eating for days. I thank the difference between them and me was that they didn’t understand why they were in prison. They had committed some crime for personal financial gail and had fucked up their life for a new car or some beer money. The difference between them and me was that I was in jail for something that I believe is worth fighting and dying for. My belief was that it wasn’t just a question of me fucking my life, but that the neo-nazis are trying to fuck the life of all humanity and how can my arrest weigh in comparison to the crimes against human progress committed by the fascist? How could my arrest compare in the scope of history compared to all the crimes the fascist do and could commit?
For how long were you in jail/custody before you ended up in prison?
I was in custody remand jail for just over 4 months before I was transferred to the temporary holding block of Sofia Central Prison. A little on the remand jails, my remind luckily had a toilet and tap, the other remand-jails in Bulgaria don’t have toilet or taps. There are between 4 an 6 prisoners to a cell and the cells without toilets prisoners shit and piss in open buckets kept inside the cell. The windows are so dirty on the outside, almost no light enters the cells and only light is a singel light bulb above the door that is controlled by the guards. We were 4 in my cell; the cell was about 5 meters by 3 meters. One thing that I would also like to mention, unlike the American or British prison movies we lived communally, what one had we all had and everything was shared evenly between us all, including responsibilities.
How has other inmates treated you?
Other inmates treated me very well. Of course there is always an idiot somewhere in your life, but excluding 1 or 2 all the inmates treated me very well. The non-Roma Bulgariens looked at me with pity somethinge like ”look at this naive foreigner helping the Roma animals, too bad for him the courts will fuck him up for his ignorance”. The Roma were thankful that I had defended a Roma against neo-nazis and many times they would explain to me the times when they had been attacked by neo-nazis or had near escapes from death. When I was moved to the prison the Roma were scared of me ande there were lots of whispers and stares as the Roma saw my boots and shaved head they thought that I was a neo-nazi. On the 3rd day a Roma came up to me and asked me in English ”what are you in prison for” I explained everything to him and he burst out smiling and he shouted out to all the other Roma (20) in the cell and they all started smiling and laughing as they all knew the story of a foreigner defending a Roma in the center of Sofia but they didn’t know that I was him. Immediately they invited me to their table and everyday they treated me to food that only they had from their families. As I had been moved my friends and family couldn’t bring me fodder a while and so I had nothing. But the Roma in the cell shared all their food and cigarettes with me (I have quit smoking for almost 3 years nom so as to save money for the union activities). One young Roma man gave me his beanie to thank me for defending a Roma man against neo-nazis and I still wear it to this day.
How do they react to what you got convicted of?
All the prisoners were shocked when I was convicted and it was such a high profile case the decision was on every TV channel and in every newspaper, in fact I learnt that my appeal had been rejected from another prisoner who was watching the news. Even before the court had informed me they had informed the media! The guards took the conviction to increase their attack against me and almost immediately they started increasing their harassment. But almost all of the prisoners without question accept that I am innocent. I think everyone was shocked except me when I was convicted. Prisoners see outrageous decisions from the court and so people are more exposed to the corrupt justice system then outsiders who just have no idea how rotten the entire system is from police up to the head judges!
Can you tell us how a typical day looks like for you in Sofia State Prison?
6:30 am rill call and the cell doors in the corridor are opened, 8:30 am again the roll call as the guards change shift, 9 am to 5 pm I go to the computer room which I won thanks to a hunger strike and the vice-minister of Justice personally ordering the prisoner director to allow me access to a computer. Funnily enough most people presume that as there is a computer there is also internet. This is not the case at all; it is only access to a compatriot use word processor for typing, which the Director tried to stop in the end of 2012. I also use the computer to read the texts and lectures the Australian university that I am doing a BA-degree History/politics at. From 6:30 am to 8:00 pm we have access to the corridor and other cells, we’re between 5 and 15 people to each cell, there are no limits how many prisons can be put in a cell, but the cells are not the same size so the larger cells get filled first. Last year there were 12 and my self in my cell. The cells have toilets and a shower! This is a luxury in a Bulgarian prisons! From 5 pm (after I leave the computer room) till 8 pm I am either replying to letters, helping prisoners with complaints/reguests /appeals or some other logistic work fore the block, for example writing the list of approved prisoners for the gym or church. I was elected to the prisoners council for my block in November 2012 and so I am proactive in order to isolate the mafia prisoners from the logistic side of the council to prevent them as much as possible from racketeering other prisoners. For exampel, one prisoner Hisham Karmo will not put a prisoner’s name on the list for the gym unless that prisoner pays him, so I make the list to keep everthing fair especially for the prisoners without money. 8:30 pm roll call and the cells are locked up until next morning. 10:30 pm the electricity is stopped and the cell is totally black, we use lighters to see and move around the cell.