Bulgaria on Trial in Toma Nikolaev Case
By Grattan Puxon
It was ‘painfully clear’ the application for the extradition of Roma journalist Toma Nikolaev Maldenov should be dismissed, a court in London was told on Wednesday (22 May). However, Westminster Magistrates Court decided to adjourn the case until 6 June so that legal arguments concerning the validity of the European warrant issued at the request of Bulgarain prosecuters can be fully aired. Counsel for the defence Mark Summers stated that in his opinion the warrant executed for the arrest of Nikolaev lacked validity since it failed to give sufficient details of the incident at a Sofia poilice station which had led eventually to the present proceedings.
Nikolaev was arrested and detained some days after taking part in a demonstration outside the Bulgarian Embassy on the occassion of Roma Nation Day, 8 April. The same morning, together with members of his Roma London BG group and supporters, he had held a commemoration at the Hyde Park Holocaust Memorial in memory of Roma victions of fascism, past and present. A placard carrying the names of 21 Roma who have been murdered in Bulgaria, mostly in racial incidents, was displayed during the event.
It is not disputed that Nikolaev’s present troubles arose from the encounter at a Sofia police station, where he had gone to sort out a problem his wife had with her passport. Several court hearings followed, one of which resulted in a police officer being dismissed from his job and another in a one year prison sentence being imposed on Nikolaev. That sentence, for a public disorder offence, was later reduced to six months. Nikolaev served four months before being released, having earned some remission. However, prosecutors claim he still has seven weeks to serve and it is for this reason Bulgaria is seeking his extradition.
If the case is not dismissed on the grounds that the arrest warrant was invalid, further legal argument will be presented concerning the public disorder charge itself. In yet a third phase of the case, matters related to the defendant’s human rights and his safety should Nikolaev be forcibly returned to Bulgaria are expected to be raised. The situation of the 600,000 Roma living in Bulgaria would then likely be debated.
A recent EU report has drawn attention to the continued seperation of Roma children in the education system, as well as widespread discrimination. Threats and assaults against Roma have increased since the electoral successes of the neo-fascist Attack Party and only the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights has prevented destruction of a Roma quarter in Sofia.
On Wednesday members of Roma London BG, supported by the TSN solidarity group, held a demonstration outside the courthouse protesting against apartheid in Bulgaria and calling for the extradition application to be rejected.