Bulgaria pursues extradition of Roma editor in UK courts
As Roma activists, families and supporters gathered outside Westminsters Magistrates Court last week for the attempted extradition of one Roma journalist, things are getting worse for European Roma writes Grattan Puxon.
Human rights issues concerning the worsening situation of Bulgaria’s large Roma minority are now expected to be aired in the case of a Romani journalist under threat of extradition from Britain.
Toma Nikolaev Mladenov, one-time parliamentary candidate and editor of the online DeFacto news agency, has been fighting extradition for many months. He was detained on a European warrant after taking part in a demonstration outside the Bulgarian Embassy on 8 April, marking Roma Nation Day.
At his last appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court on 7 September, an attempt to dismiss the extradition application on the grounds that Nikolaev has served his six month prison sentence was thrown out. The court accepted the prosecutors’ contention that a period of forty-five days remains to be served in a Bulgarian prison. Nikolaev was originally convicted of disorderly conduct in a Sofia police station, the details of which have not been explained by the Bulgarian authorities. An initial sentence of one year was halved on appeal.
Significant in the case is the fact that Nikolaev’s arrest followed the conviction and dismissal of an officer for racial discrimination arising from the incident at the station. There have been reports of a severe clamp-down on Roma activists in Bulgaria, with many currently serving prison sentences. Nikolaev himself says his office was ransacked, he was beaten in the street and a bomb placed close to his apartment. He then fled the country for the safety of his family.
The next hearing is scheduled for 9 October at the same court. However, lawyers for Nikolaev believe the extradition application will then be moved to higher court for a final ruling.
If this happens, it is likely the defence will produce evidence to show that the lives of 800,000 Roma in Bulgaria are becoming increasingly precarious. Both in the social and political spheres, their plight has arguably worsened since Bulgaria was accepted as an EU member in 2007. The rise of the neo-facist Attack party and a series of riots, beatings, shootings and bomb attacks on communities and individuals, has led to a steep decline in Roma civil society activism. This in turn has caused stagnation in the once-promising, EU-backed ‘Decade of Roma Inclusion‘.
Failure of the reforms was disclosed in a letter to the European Commission signed by Bulgarian Roma activists at the end of 2010. It urged that the Bulgarian government talk with minority representatives and start treating the Roma issue as a political matter rather than exclusively a social one.