PRESS RELEASE: BHC finds significant inconsistencies in the Interior Ministry’s account of events related to the Afghan asylum seeker’s death in Bulgaria

20.10.2015, Sofia 

On Friday, 16 October 2015, the Ministry of Interior reported that during the previous night not far from the Bulgarian-Turkish border, two border police officers and a seconded police officer came across a group of about 50 Afghan citizens under a bridge near the village of Dyulevo (in the Municipality of Sredets) in Bulgaria. According to the statements made by authority representatives so far, including the Interior Ministry Chief Secretary, the group of migrants were aggressive and resisted arrest. This caused one of the officers to produce a warning shot in the air, which subsequently ricocheted into one of the people in the group – a 56-year-old man, wounding and killing him.

On 19 October employees of the Refugee Programme of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) met and spoke with 20 people from the group of Afghan citizens who were involved in the incident. They had been taken to the Allocation Centre in Elhovo on the previous day. Among them was the brother of the killed man. During the interviews, BHC found significant inconsistencies between their story and the Ministry of Interior’s official version about the incident. We believe it is important to share this information with the Bulgarian public.

The killed Afghan citizen’s name is Ziahullah Vafa. He was 19 years old. He was accompanied by his 17-year-old brother whose statement provided the information below. This testimony is supported by all the other people in the group, currently at the Allocation Centre in Elhovo. According to their unanimous testimonies the group was intercepted at the bridge not by three, but by four or five police officers. Nobody resisted or behaved aggressively towards the officers. Upon seeing the police officers, the Afghans dispersed in different directions. Two of the police officers started shooting with each of them producing two shots. It was previously announced in the media that there had been only one. At that point the group, running away from the police officers, had their backs turned and cannot say with certainty whether the produced shots were in the air or aimed at them. After Ziahullah Vafa was hit by one of the shots and fell to the ground, everyone in the group stopped, laid on the ground and remained there until the arrival of police reinforcements and their formal arrest. All foreigners also agree that in the subsequent search the police did not find any firearms, other weapons or any items that could be used as such. They found only personal belongings, clothes, phones and documents.

BHC is concerned about the substantial differences between the original version provided by the authorities and the claims of witnesses. This calls into question the objectivity of the information given to the media, as well as the intentions of the authorities to disclose to the public the actual circumstances of this tragic event. The incident raises serious questions on the use of firearms, which under these circumstances does not seem to have been absolutely necessary.

This is not the first incident of this kind at the Bulgarian border. In the autumn of 2000 on the territory of the Ivaylovgrad border police department, during an attempt to detain a group of 91 people in a wooded area, a border patrol shot and killed an Iraqi citizen. In this case both the original version and the final conclusion of the prosecution again was that the death was caused by a warning shot fired in the air that ricocheted.

Fifteen years later the Bulgarian society is being presented with similar circumstances and identical explanations on part of the authorities, and unfortunately – yet again the same fatal outcome.

Therefore, BHC calls for a thorough, prompt and impartial investigation as a guarantee for uncovering the objective truth about this tragic event. Of particular importance for the investigation is to establish whether the firearm was used under conditions of absolute necessity, as required by Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Bulgarian legislation. An investigation in accordance with international standards for integrity, independence and impartiality is essential to identify the actual cause and blame for the tragic incident that claimed the life of a young man who was seeking protection, safety and a better future.