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Sentenced initially in 2009, Paul ‘Jock’ Palfreeman was found guilty of the murder of Bulgarian law student, Andrei Monov, and of intent to murder Antoan Zahariev. The Australian, who was travelling abroad in Bulgaria’s capital, was handed a 20-year sentence for his involvement in a 2007 street brawl: Palfreeman stabbed both men, fatally wounding Monov. Throughout his trial, Palfreeman maintained his innocence.
His claims – that he acted in self-defence as he was shielding an innocent Roma from the onslaught of a racially motivated attack by Monov, Zahariev and a dozen other men. Despite numerous appeals, rejected by the courts, Palfreeman continued to serve half of his sentence. Now – in an unprecedented turn of events – the Australian has been granted parole. Video footage recently released to the public corroborates Palfreeman’s long-held narrative: CCTV captures a group of men provoking the tourist, before pushing him down, and surrounding him while he tries to flee.
Feeling “vindicated”, Palfreeman spoke to Australian news from the detention centre he was moved to. “The prosecution in the court said that there was no violence … and there was no motivation for my random attack.” Palfreeman’s father, who has remained a part of his original legal team, welcomed the unexpected decision.
When questioned about whether Monov’s father – a former TV personality turned politician – had any sway in his son’s trial, public perception and sentence, Palfreeman’s father responded that he had “no doubt” that the high profile personality had been “very influential in the outcome Jock had received”. Palfreeman’s father continued to say that “it’s very unfortunate that grieving parents have been enabled by the system to continue a very vindictive program against Jock for such a long time”.
The decision to grant parole by the panel of three high court judges, cannot be overturned. However, this did not perturb Monov’s parents from starting a petition to the Bulgarian prosecutor-general to revoke the verdict. “The three judges … will carry a moral disgrace on their own,” Monov’s father stated. Moreover, Palfreeman’s parole has angered Bulgarian far-right parties. Describing the decision as an affront to “Bulgarian dignity”, the nationalist Attack Party leader staged a loud demonstration condemning the ruling and the release of the “Australian freak”.
Citing his activism as a motivator for his trumped-up sentence, this did not dissuade Palfreeman from actively protesting from within the maximum-security jail. Being a vocal critic of Bulgaria’s human rights violations and unjust treatment of prisoners did not do him any favours with the prison administration. Routinely subject to targeted violence and extreme measures of isolation, Palfreeman was instrumental in launching the Bulgarian Prisoner’s Rights Association. Founded in 2013, the group has been successful in conducting several non-violent resistance protests, such as hunger strikes.
Along with other (ex-)prisoners, Palfreeman has been credited with facilitating prisoner’s access to legal representation and knowledge of their rights; access to medication; and the right to make requests and appeals. The Association continues to humanise the prisoners’ struggles within an inherently corrupt institution, dedicating an effort to “reduce the massive difference between prisoners´ rights in other E.U. member states and these in Bulgaria”. It is because of his rehabilitation efforts in prison which aided the high-court judges’ decision.
As of writing this publication, Palfreeman continues to remain in a detention centre outside of Sofia. He has received a renewed passport but is unable to leave the country. Support continues to garner online to have the Australian PM intervene and assure the Australian’s safe passage home.
This story echoes within the conscious of political activists around the globe: Palfreeman was a tourist in a foreign country, where he saw a racially motivated crime occurring in front of him. Without a second thought, the Australian man leapt defend minority. It is because of these selfless actions that he would lose 11 years of his own life in prison.
As surmised by Palfreeman himself, “I have a drive to help other prisoners and it’s the same drive that drove me to help the Roma that night. I believe that every man or woman has the responsibility to effect progressive change, wherever they are, and whatever time it is.”