Bulgaria‘s approach to the return of a journalist wanted by the Turkish authorities in 2016 was illegal and part of the systematic expulsion of refugees and migrants without examining the risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.
The Bulgarian state was sentenced to pay the journalist 15,000 euros in damages.
The Strasbourg court found that he was forced to leave Turkey after a failed coup in July 2016.
“I worked as a journalist in the city of Bozova. After the coup attempt, I was fired from the newspaper. I changed my address and found that the police were looking for me at my previous address, ”said the journalist, according to the legal summary of the case.
Together with eight other refugees from Turkey and Syria, he was arrested on October 14, 2016 in a truck on the Bulgarian-Romanian border.
Despite his fear of return, the Bulgarian authorities never assessed the risk of torture, ill-treatment and further political persecution, the court ruling said. He was not given access to a lawyer or an interpreter.
He was returned to Turkey in less than 24 hours. He was arrested on arrival and sentenced in December 2019 to seven and a half years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization.
According to the European Court of Human Rights, the Turkish judgment was largely based on the fact that he had installed the Bylock messenger application on his cell phone. The app is used by the movement of the cleric Fethullah Gülen, which, according to the Turkish government, is behind the attempted coup and regards it as a terrorist organization.
“The decision of the ECHR gives the complainant a belated but important satisfaction. It sets a strong counterpoint to Bulgaria’s longstanding practice of denying refugees protection from persecution and returning them directly to their persecutors, ”said the journalist’s lawyer, Carsten Gericke.
Bulgaria did not give an immediate official response to the court’s ruling.
A BIRN investigation in October 2019 found that after the failed coup in Turkey, over 250 Turkish citizens applied for asylum in Kosovo, Bosnia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria.