Bulgaria Defeated in Strasbourg by Man Accused of Acid Attack
A Bulgarian national, who was required to wear a balaclava with eye-holes whenever he left his cell after being detained on suspicions of perpetrating an acid attack, has been awarded EUR 6,000 by the European Court of Human Rights.
Petyo Petkov, a 39-year-old taxi driver, was arrested by the police on 15 January 2002 on suspicion of being the perpetrator of a sulphuric acid attack on the deputy director of the National Planning Directorate in Sofia.
Until the time of his acquittal and release in June the next year the applicant was required to wear a balaclava with eye-holes whenever he left his cell (for example, when moving about or outside the prison premises, at hearings or when receiving visits).
The European Court of Human Rights said it not persuaded that the application of that measure during the hearings had been justified, since the applicant’s anonymity could have been preserved by other means.
“The Court does not see any reason for requiring Mr Petkov to wear the balaclava during meetings with his lawyers and relatives or while moving about the prison, “ the court ruling says.
Lastly, despite the court decision ordering the police officers to stop using the balaclava after 22 May 2003, the officers had arbitrarily continued to conceal Petkov’s face outside the courtroom until 18 June 2003.
The Bulgarian state has also been convicted for the delay (one year and three months) in returning the applicant’s taxi to him as this was attributable solely to an omission on the part of the Bulgarian courts.
The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No.1.
According to Strasbourg court in stating that no judge could persuade him that Petkov was innocent, the public prosecutor had not denied that it was ultimately for the courts to say whether or not the applicant was guilty as charged.
The Court noted, however, that that statement had been made by a senior prosecutor at a press conference, against a background of widespread media coverage, a relatively short time after the applicant had been acquitted at first instance and while the case was still pending on an appeal by the prosecution.
The statement in question had therefore been capable of creating a public perception that Mr Petkov was guilty of the offence of which he was accused. The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 6 § 2.
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