Jock Palfreeman: Freedom So Close, Yet So Far

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Mr Palfreeman

Sydney man Jock Palfreeman remains locked in an immigration detention centre in Bulgaria, awaiting a decision on whether he will be sent back to prison, or home to Australia as a free man.

In the latest development in the bid for his freedom, almost three hundred Bulgarian judges have signed a letter defending the decision by the appellate court to grant the Australian parole.

The Bulgarian Union of Judges has written to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), the body that oversees the judiciary, because the appellate court’s decision was met with considerable anger as well as widespread public and political criticism. 

Parole could still be revoked

It’s a precarious time for Jock Palfreeman, and the outcome of his case is far from certain right now. While much of the backlash in Bulgaria has centred on the decision to grant him parole, the issue goes well beyond his case alone.

Both the politicians and the people of Bulgaria are raging a debate about the ongoing need for judicial reform. One of the most vocal opponents of the decision is Hristo Monov, the father of the man Jock Palfree was found guilty of murdering. Hristo Monov is a former MP for the Bulgarian Socialist party.

In many ways, to have his case in the spotlight right now is exceptionally unfortunate timing for the Australian who had his parole application denied in July, and that decision then overturned weeks later.

Public sentiment is running particularly high in Bulgaria, because elections are looming. People took to the streets earlier this year, and again last week demanding a shake-up of the Supreme Judicial Council, particularly wanting much more transparency in the way it chooses the Prosecutor-General.

For its part, the European Commission continues to monitor the progress of reform within Bulgaria’s justice system as a condition of its European Union membership, but it has no power to intervene in the Palfreeman case, nor does the Australian Federal Government for that matter, although it’s understood that the Foreign Minister Marise Payne is offering what support is possible.

Australian supporters of the Palfreeman family are now calling for the case to be referred to the United Nations.

More than a decade behind bars

Jock grew up and went to school in Sydney.

He left Australia when he was 19 to travel arrived in Bulgaria in 2006.

He was convicted of murdering Bulgarian law student Andrei Monov, and attempting to murder his friend Antoan Zahariev, in a fight that broke out in the early hours of 28 December 2007.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but has always maintained his innocence, adamant that he went to the aid of a ‘Gypsy’ who was being assaulted by a group of men, including Andrei Monov, and that he was acting in self-defence.

Prisoner Advocacy

Jock has spent 11 years in prison in Bulgaria and started the Bulgarian Prisoners’ Rehabilitation Association, the country’s first prisoner advocacy union, aimed at exposing corruption in the country’s prison system and the abuse of inmates.

His passion for, and dedication to, prison reform earned a special mention in his successful parole application. At the time the judges said that:

“Only very positive information is highlighted in relation to the convicted person, with good communication skills, leadership attitude, tolerance towards others, inquisitive, with expressed interests in various fields, active, initiative, consistent and persistent in realisation of its goals, sensitive and reactive to the social environment, well-meaning and responsive in general, without racial or discriminatory attitudes. His activity in the Bulgarian Prison Association for Rehabilitation, registered by him, is noted. He is noted to be emotionally and socially mature.”

After his parole was granted in mid-September, Jock was taken from his prison cell to immigrant detention. He was awaiting a new passport so that he could be deported to Australia when Bulgaria’s chief prosecutor intervened with an extraordinary attempt to send him back to jail.

Nothing about his future is clear right now. And it has been suggested that because of the mass hysteria surrounding some of the issues he has now come to represent, his life could well be in jeopardy.

Jock’s father has been his most steadfast supporter, travelling regularly to see his son over the course of the past decade, but he has also always maintained respect for the fact that as frustrating as this past decade has been for the Palfreeman family, the legal aspects of Jock’s case are entirely determined by the Bulgarian authorities under that country’s legal system.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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