SOFIA (Reuters) - A Bulgarian court has ordered Deputy Prime Minister and nationalist party leader Valeri Simeonov to refrain from using hate speech following anti-Roma statements he made in parliament in 2014, lawyers from a human rights group said on Wednesday.
Simeonov was taken to Burgas Regional Court by two Roma journalists, represented by the human rights group Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, for describing Roma people as “arrogant, presumptuous and ferocious-like humans” and comparing Roma women’s instincts to those of “street dogs”.
The court found Simeonov, leader of the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB) and deputy at the time of the speech, guilty of breaking anti-discrimination laws and described his speech as harassment.
A spokesperson for Simeonov, now co-leader of the nationalist United Patriots alliance, the junior coalition government partner of which NFSB is a part, said he will appeal but would not comment on the case before a final ruling.
Simeonov, known for his tough stance on migrants and the Roma minority, has toned down his rhetoric since coming to office in May.
However, his appointment this year as chair of the national council dealing with the integration of ethnic minorities in the Balkan country has prompted protests by human rights groups.
Bulgaria is home to one of the largest populations of the EU’s six million Roma where, as in other countries, many live on the fringes of society, suffer discrimination and struggle to get jobs.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Ken Ferris