Bulgarian Turk wins lawsuit over speaking mother tongue

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According to local reports on Tuesday, a well-known Bulgarian politician of Turkish descent has triumphed in court against the Balkan state for using Turkish during his 2013 election campaign.

Lütfi Mestan was the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) running for parliament when he spoke Turkish during a campaign event.

On May 17, 2013, he was issued an administrative fine of 1,000 euros for violating the election code, and upon appeal, a district court upheld the decision but reduced the penalty to 250 euros.

On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Bulgaria violated Mestan’s freedom of expression by fining him and that he should be compensated for damages and legal costs totaling 4,400 euros (about $4,830), according to Bulgaria’s state-run BTA news agency.

While the election code prohibits the restriction on language use, the court questioned whether it is “necessary in a democratic society.”

The local court fined Mestan for violating Article 133 of the election code, which mandated using the Bulgarian language during election campaigns.

However, in his appeal to the district court, he argued that the language he used during the event was not only his mother tongue but also that of his Turkish-minority electorate, the majority of whom were elderly and not fluent in Bulgarian.

The court reduced the fine but upheld the administrative court decision, prompting Mestan to take the matter to the ECtHR.

Bulgaria has the largest Muslim population of Turkish descent outside of Türkiye. However, an assimilation policy adopted in the Balkan country by the communist regime in the 1980s forced hundreds of thousands of Turks into an exodus toward Türkiye to preserve their names and ethnic identity.

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