German courts refuse to extradite prisoners to Bulgaria

Not much has changed in Sofia's prison since it was first built in 1911. [ClubZ]

German courts have declined to hand over inmates to Bulgaria due to concerns over dire prison conditions in the European Union’s poorest country, authorities said yesterday (23 March).

“We have several such cases where courts have refused to extradite Bulgarian nationals to serve out their sentences in prisons in Bulgaria,” Execution of Sentences chief Rosen Zhelyazkov told BNT public television.

The Regional Court in Oldenburg and the Higher Regional Court in Bremen — both in Germany — last week refused to transfer three convicted Bulgarians to serve out their sentences in Bulgaria’s second city Varna, citing the inhumane conditions there.

Prosecutor General Sotir Tsatsarov alerted the Ministry of Justice over the refusals, and requested “immediate measures” after the German court rulings.

“This problem could turn into a trend unless timely measures for its resolution are taken,” Tsatsarov warned.

Zhelyazkov said the conditions were particularly bad in the oldest prisons in the capital Sofia and in the eastern cities of Burgas and Varna.

Due to a lack of toilets close to their cells, some prisoners have to use buckets at night instead, said Zhelyazkov, calling the situation “tragic”.

“I cannot comment on rulings by the courts of another country… but indeed, in the 21st century, we should not still speak of prisons without toilets,” he said.

Overcrowding was another problem, with some prisoners having less than two square metres (21 square feet) of living space in the dorms instead of the minimum requirement for six square metres.

Prisoners have brought numerous cases against Bulgaria at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to complain about the conditions in their cells, prompting a judgement in January that would force detention conditions to improve within 18 months.

In the meantime, lack of funding has blocked the plans of several successive governments in the country to build new prisons.

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