Row Deepens over Citizen's Arrests of Migrants in Bulgaria
Video footage showing the detention of migrants in Southern Bulgaria done by volunteer squads has added to controversy in a country divided over the treatment of migrants trying to cross its borders.
The footage purportedly shows three men, supposedly from Afghanistan, lying on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs.
It was first published on Facebook by a "Joseph Louis Barrow" with a comment reading: "DETENTION OF MIGRANTS AND RETURN TO TURKEY... No 112 [emergency hotline], no police traitors. We are acting on our own!"
Prosecuting authorities in the town of Malko Tarnovo, a municipality in Burgas region next to the border with Turkey, have launched pretrial proceedings over what they believe is a case of unlawful detention, which under Bulgaria's Criminal Code is punishable by up to six years behind bars.
Interior Rumyana Bachvarova has also criticized the actions shown in the video, writing on Facebook authorities now have to be wary "not only of those illegally crossing the borders but also of those willing to abuse them. Either for money or for cheap and dangerous fame."
A blunt response has followed even from NFSB, one of the parties of the Patriotic Front, a nationalist coalition backing the government, with its leader Valeri Simeonov calling the volunteers "brigades of mutri" only seeking profit by stealing migrants' belongings and taking part in smuggling schemes. ("Mutri" is a reference to members of organized criminal gangs that were at the center of waves of violence in Bulgaria in the 1990s and early into the next decade).
The development has also marked a shift in the rhetoric of authorities on voluntary patrols along the border, a recent phenomenon that had initially been encouraged by both the Prime Minister and border police.
As the state refugee agency and the Interior Ministry had been expecting an increased migratory pressure on the southern borders this spring, the name of 29-year-old Dinko Valev, from the southern town of Yambol, rose to fame after one of the most watched TV stations portrayed him as a "superhero" hunting down migrants "with his bare hands".
Valev had also alleged that he should be allowed to deal with those detained on his own. Since then, his actions have been welcomed by some Bulgarians but described as "repulsive" by others.
bTV later tried to distance itself from Valev, who even received coverage from the international media and was praised by border police and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.
The latter had said that any help provided to border police in protecting the border should be encouraged, but later backtracked, explaining his comment had been misinterpreted and urging volunteer groups not to abuse their own rights.
An unknown number of groups have started patrols along the border since Valev gained media attention.
Last week border police head Antonio Angelov had argued, in an interview with private NOVA broadcaster, that Valev's actions had to be encouraged and he had therefore been awarded by his institution.
However, Angelov told bTV after the footage was published Monday the detentions seen were "to put it mildly, unlawful".
He added that only police officers were authorized to detain people upon an order from the prosecution and the court.
Earlier, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee had called on border police in an open letter to refrain from encouraging volunteer squads.
It also intends to refer Borisov's initial comments, about the value of help to border police, to Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov, arguing they constitute an incitement of hatred and violence based on religion, ethnicity or nationality under Bulgaria's Criminal Code (Articles 162 (1), 162 (2-4), 163 (1), and 320).
Separately, the profile that published the video posted on Tuesday morning a statement in both Bulgarian and English reading: "Brothers and sisters, / obviously our government and the supporting medias have forgotten their Bulgarian origin, and if they do not recall, I suggest we teach them ourrself ...and want to accuse patriots who detained illegal immigrants in crime "unlawful imprisonment". / Please support us ! / Long live Bulgaria... / Death, death and only death to traitors ...."
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