Sofia Regional prosecution office has reached a settlement with two of the men accused of carrying out a violent racist attack in the capital city of Bulgaria on April 19 this year. The victim is A.T., a French citizen and woman of colour.
Around 10:30 p.m. on April 19 the woman and three of her friends were waiting at a bus stop in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, when a group of men in the approaching trolley bus began to imitate monkey sounds and to shout “Catch the nigger!" and “We’re getting off!”. A.T. and her friends were attacked with fists and kicks. The assailants wore black jackets, tight pants and military-style boots and had nearly shaved haircuts. They escaped immediately after the battery by getting onto the next trolley bus that had arrived. Except wounds and bruises on her forehead, nose, waist, right arm and knee, the woman’s right lower leg had a hematoma. There were also bruises on her eyelids, mouth and left arm. A.T. was in pain, unable to move with scars on her face. The attack has caused her not only injuries but also deep emotional trauma.
According to the information provided by the investigator on the case, the charges are for hooliganism and light bodily harm, even though the facts clearly indicate a racist motive - the attacked woman is a person of colour, the assailants’ appearance fell within the skinhead dress code and they were using racist slurs and gestures.
It is still unclear what are the motives (whether hooligan or racist) that the prosecutor has claimed and what does the settlement entail. This is important in the context of the sharp increase in racist, xenophobic and homophobic attacks and hate speech in Bulgaria. The actions of the prosecutors have the power to prevent or encourage hate crimes and hate speech.
The injured has no legal means to challenge the settlement, despite the fact that the punishment of the attackers is likely to be reduced. Now a judge's approval of the settlement is needed for it to enter into force. The legal representation of the injured A.T. is taken up by the Legal Program of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC).
BHC reminds that in 2013, as well as in recent months, the public debate was saturated with xenophobic and racist hate speech. In addition, the cases of racist violence have increased, as documented in the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Annual Report on Human Rights in Bulgaria in 2013.
The responsible law enforcement is an important tool for the prevention of hate crimes and hate speech. In March this year the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled against Bulgaria on an uninvestigated assault on a Sudanese person by skinheads.
Many cases of racially motivated violence reached the media in 2013 such as the attack on a young man of Roma origin in downtown Sofia carried out by skinheads; the attack on a young Nigerian in Sofia public transport; the attack on a 17-year-old boy from Syria, stabbed with a knife near a refugee camp; the attack on a woman from Cameroon, carried out during the day on a bus stop; the attack on a Bulgarian youngster of colour punched by three persons in the tram; the attack on two Syrians and one Lebanese Palestinian by a large group of men, armed with a cold weapons; the beating of a youngster from Mali; and let us not forget the attack on a young man, an ethnic Turk, who was mistaken for a refugee and beaten by five men with iron chains in the center of Sofia.