SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s highest appeals court said on Monday it would rule within two months on a panel’s decision to grant parole to an Australian convicted of murder, which angered nationalist politicians who say it is too early for him to go free.
Jock Palfreeman has served 11 years of a 20 year sentence since being found guilty of murder and attempted murder in the stabbing of two Bulgarian youths, one of whom died, during a street melee in 2007.
The 32-year-old, who was serving in the British army at the time of the incident, has said he acted in self defence and was trying to protect Roma being attacked by the Bulgarians.
Last month he was granted parole by a panel of three judges. However, Bulgaria’s Chief Prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov made an application to the country’s highest court to have his parole revoked, arguing that two of the judges had a conflict of interest.
Nationalist political parties have organised demonstrations in the capital Sofia against his release.
Since being granted parole, Palfreeman has been transferred from prison to an immigration detention centre.
Bulgaria’s interior ministry says prosecutors have ordered that he not leave the country, and he must be held because he lacks valid identification documents. Australia says it has issued him emergency travel papers and he should be permitted to go home.
Monday’s hearing, initially scheduled for Oct 23, was brought forward by the court amid a rising tide of political anger over the case.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she was “deeply disappointed” that Palfreeman remains in custody in Bulgaria.
“We would be very concerned if factors other than the normal legal premises that operate in Bulgaria were at play in his case,” Payne told reporters on Saturday. “And we have most clearly and explicitly sought his release from immigration detention and his return to Australia.”
Palfreeman’s lawyer Kalin Angelov described the appeal of the parole decision as “absurd”.
“I think it is frustrating to everyone here,” he told reporters after the court’s announcement on Monday.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Peter Graff