Australian Jock Palfreeman has left Bulgaria, more than 13 years after he was first arrested and charged with murdering a student in the capital Sofia.
“For my safety I do not want my whereabouts known,” he told the ABC.
Mr Palfreeman’s lawyer, Kalin Angelov, said his client had wanted to remain in the country but received threats that he would be arrested if he did not go.
“It was against his will,” Mr Angelov said.
In December 2007 Mr Palfreeman was arrested after a melee in the streets of Sofia.
He was charged with the murder of young Bulgarian law student Andrei Monov, and the attempted murder of his friend Antoan Zahariev.
Mr Palfreeman has always claimed he went to the assistance of a Roma man being attacked by Mr Monov and his cohort, pulling out a butterfly knife from his pocket to frighten off the gang.
When the attackers turned on him, Mr Palfreeman said he swung the knife around to keep them at bay.
The Sofia court found him guilty of murder with hooliganism and attempted murder, and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
In 2019 he was granted early release but was taken from prison to the Busmantsi Detention Centre because he did not have a passport.
Within days Australian government officials got him the necessary paperwork, but Bulgarian authorities would not release him.
By then the far-right party VRMO, which forms part of the government and holds the public order and security ministry, held a protest against the parole decision.
So too did Andrei Monov’s father, Hristo Monov, a former member of parliament who is now running in parliamentary elections to be held on Sunday.
Free but unable to leave
Mr Palfreeman was released one month later, after Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne lodged complaints about his ongoing detention.
But he was then prevented from leaving the country until a court insisted a historic ban be lifted late last year.
By then Mr Palfreeman, who speaks Bulgarian and has many Bulgarian friends, had set up a life in the countryside outside Sofia.
He continued to run the prisoners’ association he established while in prison, and worked in his garden.
Mr Palfreeman said he had only left the country now because he received threats that he would be arrested and returned to Busmantsi Detention Centre.
Australian citizens require a visa if they remain in Bulgaria longer than three months.
“They kept me for over a year illegally and the government made me an illegal immigrant,” he said.
“I am maybe the only person who is an illegal immigrant because of the government.”