“Abdulrahman” was previously an overseas British student studying medicine in Bulgaria from 2016, and had travelled back and forth between Bulgaria and Britain without issue. Things changed dramatically for Abdulrahman and fellow Muslim students in 2019, soon after they hosted an Islamic society event featuring a doctor from Britain.

3 months after that Bulgarian police began a campaign of harassment against the students, taking them in for questioning about how they prayed, accusing the Islamic society of holding ‘radical activities’ and ‘extremist’ speakers, and escalating to the point where Abdulrahman was refused re-entry to Bulgaria following a trip home.

Abdulrahman has been denied justice by Bulgarian courts and European courts. Here, Abdullah recounts his experiences and his ongoing fight for justice.

View the Human Voices story from Amin, another students who has also been barred from re-entry to Bulgaria on spurious grounds.

I had been studying in Bulgaria since 2015 and only had one year left of my degree when everything happened.

In 2019, the police showed up at my apartment in Bulgaria at 7am and told me I had to come with them to the police station. It felt like something out of a movie, being told to get into a blacked out car, sitting in the middle of two plain clothesclothed officers with their guns showing.

Once I got to the police station, I was told to give my phone since it was not allowed inside. After going inside, I met some of my other peers who had also been taken from their homes. It was a coordinated operation targeting innocent Muslim students. We were all scared and we all had one thing in common: being part of the university ISOC (Islamic Society).

We were taken into separate rooms with different agents and questioned about our university society.

They told us it was routine questioning and they just wanted to learn more about the students in Bulgaria. They started by asking casual questions like why I chose to study there and if I like it or not. Gradually they led to more confusing and sinister questions, like if they checked my apartment would they find a bomb?

In the end they let us go. They told us that was the end of it and bid us farewell with smiles.

A few weeks later I left Bulgaria for my holidays and returned to the UK. When I tried going back, I was stopped under Schedule 7 and approached by MI5. They found nothing wrong in my answers and appeared to show genuine concern for what is happening to me in Bulgaria. Once they let me go, I took my flight and reached Bulgaria. After landing, I was stopped at border control and was told I have a five year ban on entering the country. The reasoning was that I was a threat to ‘national security’.

I only had one year left of my studies. Yet now my studies are paused, maybe forever. I had no idea being part of a legal and lawful university society could lead to such a major and catastrophic outcome.

I had to sleep in a cell at the airport until I could board the next flight back to the UK. They kept 5 soldiers and a dog around me at all times whilst I was in the airport. It was confusing to me as to why I was seen as such a major threat to their country when I was a big advocate for studying in Bulgaria.

The general public was always good to me and I made many friends whilst I was there. However now my connection to a place I called home for 5 years has been severed for a lifetime.

I tried to fight this case in court. However, the Bulgarian legal system did not give me the justice I deserved. The judges saw it as my word against theirs even though there is no proof of any wrongdoing. The treatment I received by the Bulgarian secret police and the Bulgarian courts was completely unjustified. There was no evidence presented against me with any real substance.

One claim made against me in my court case was that I am of Pakistani descent yet I pray in Arabic and hence this is suspicious and deemed as extremist behaviour. They are completely unaware that all Muslims pray in Arabic. These statements alongside the entire series of events and the allegations made against me show that this is nothing than Islamophobic rhetoric at the core of Bulgaria’s anti-terrorism policies.

I am now fighting this case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Image used courtesy of Flickr/Albert Koch

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)