One conscientious objector to military service was imprisoned and four men were detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression; all were prisoners of conscience. There were widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials. Many of the victims were Roma. At least five people reportedly died as a result of ill-treatment or torture. Shootings by police officers in disputed circumstances resulted in at least three deaths. Seven people were sentenced to death. No executions were carried out. An asylum-seeker was returned to Tunisia, where he was detained and tortured. In November, Petar Stoyanov, the candidate of the main opposition group, the Union of Democratic Forces, was elected President. The government of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party was facing growing criticism for failing to resolve serious economic problems and widespread corruption in state institutions, including the police force. Four people detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression were prisoners of conscience. In February, in Smolyan, Valentin Hadzhiev and Mitko Shtirkov, both journalists, were arrested and detained for 24 hours for publishing articles in which they stated that a local prosecutor was a former police officer who had been dismissed from the force for taking bribes. They were charged with defaming a public official in the press, but had not been brought to trial by the end of the year. In July, in Sandanski, two police officers arrested Georgi Stoev and Andon Andonov as they were putting up leaflets announcing an assembly of the Obedinena makedonska organizatsiya "Ilinden" (OMO "Ilinden"), United Macedonian Organization "Ilinden". Police officers reportedly slapped and punched them during questioning at the police station. They were released without charge the following day. In September, Dian Dimitrov, a conscientious objector to military service, began a 10-month prison sentence for evading military service. Although the right to alternative service is guaranteed by the Constitution, a separate bill to regulate alternative service had not been adopted by the end of the year. Dian Dimitrov was a prisoner of conscience. There were daily reports of torture and ill-treatment by police officers. In September, two senior police officers in Harmanli were suspended from duty following an incident in which at least two men were severely beaten. Many victims of torture or ill-treatment by police were criminal suspects, but an increasing number appeared to have been the targets of random violence by police officers. In March, Anton Mitkov Dimitrov, a 14-year-old student, was walking to his home in Sliven when he was stopped by three police officers, one of whom beat him with his truncheon and kicked him in the knees and groin. He was then handcuffed, taken to the police station and shortly afterwards released. He was examined by a doctor, who noted bruising on the nape of the neck and on his left wrist. In April, Zlatka Asenova Gikova was punched in the face several times and hit on the back by an off-duty police officer at a bus stop in a Sofia suburb. A medical certificate noted cuts and bruising on her mouth, temple and the back of the head. In May, Ivan Todorov was reportedly beaten in a Sofia park by a plainclothes police officer following an identity card check. When Ivan Todorov started to run, the officer shot him twice. A police press statement claimed that the officer had acted in self-defence. As in previous years, many of the victims of alleged ill-treatment were Roma. Seventeen-year-old Angel Zubchikov died in hospital in January, the day after he was arrested in Razgrad on suspicion of theft and taken to the police station. An autopsy reportedly established that his death resulted from a brain haemorrhage following a blow to the head. After his parents took the body home, they observed other injuries, including broken ribs, which were photographed by a local journalist. The police claimed that Angel Zubchikov had fallen and hit his head on a kerb. An investigation was initiated, but no results had been made public by the end of the year. At least four other people died in detention, apparently as a result of torture or ill-treatment. Among them were Filip Kunchev, who died in July in the Eighth Precinct in Sofia, where he had been detained in the course of a criminal investigation, and Hristo Bekirski, detained in Plovdiv on suspicion of murder, who died in September following an operation to determine whether he had suffered internal injuries. Hristo Bekirski had reportedly been severely beaten with truncheons by police officers, following an escape attempt in which he injured two guards. In July, two police officers of the Eighth Precinct in Sofia were charged as accomplices in the murder of Ivan Benchev. In April, Ivan Benchev had been beaten to death following his release from this precinct, by men reportedly incited to the act by the police officers. There were several cases of police shootings of unarmed people which resulted in death. In April, a police officer in Sliven shot and killed Hristo Hristov, who was reportedly stealing electric cable from a shaft. The police officer was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced in September to one year of corrective labour. In July, in Lesura, a major in the military police shot and killed Kancho Angelov and Kiril Petkov, unarmed soldiers who had left their unit without permission. An investigation was initiated by the military prosecutor but the major responsible for the killings had reportedly not been suspended from duty. Seven people were sentenced to death. A moratorium on executions, imposed in 1990, remained in force. In July, an asylum-seeker was sent back to Tunisia, where he was held incommunicado for six days and later subjected to torture during interrogation by the police. In March, Amnesty International expressed concern to then President Zhelyu Zhelev about the detention of the two journalists in Smolyan and about the law under which they were charged, which appeared to restrict the right to freedom of expression. In June, Amnesty International published a report, Bulgaria: Shootings, deaths in custody, torture and ill-treatment, which described in detail some of the cases which had been reported to the organization since 1993, including seven deaths in custody in suspicious circumstances, three incidents in which six people were shot by police and 17 cases of torture and ill-treatment involving dozens of victims. The organization made extensive recommendations regarding investigations into reports of such violations. In July, Amnesty International urged the Minister of the Interior not to deport the Tunisian asylum-seeker. In September, the organization expressed concern to Prime Minister Zhan Videnov about the detention of OMO "Ilinden" activists and urged him to initiate investigations into further reports of shootings, deaths in custody and torture and ill-treatment. In October, Amnesty International called for the release of Dian Dimitrov. The authorities wrote to Amnesty International in July and September providing information about investigations into 16 cases of deaths in custody, torture and ill-treatment. In October, Amnesty International published a report describing the government's response and the organization's outstanding concerns.

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