Prosecution in Hungary: Two recent “non”-cases

Let me start with the case involving a Fidesz member of parliament, József Balázs, and Oszkár Juhász, the newly elected Jobbik mayor of Gyöngyöspata. A few days before the elections, Balázs phoned Juhász and threatened the future mayor that Gyöngyöspata will not receive any money from the central government in case Juhász wins the elections because "in this region only those people will receive money whom I approve." 

First, Balázs denied that any such conversation had taken place, but on July 19th Jobbik released a tape recording of the telephone conversation. Apparently Fidesz politicians began threatening and trying to blackmail Juhász already in March. So Juhász "in defense" taped conversations with Balázs.

After the release of the tape LMP stood by Jobbik and demanded Balázs's resignation from his post as a member of parliament, a demand that was unlikely to be met. In fact, Gergely Gulyás, who was the spokesman for the party on that day, announced that it is "not words that matter but deeds." Thus, the party dismissed the whole affair as immaterial. Some commentator jokingly retorted that in this case Ferenc Gyurcsány's words at Balatonőszöd shouldn't have mattered at all.

Oszkár Juhász decided to ask the police to investigate the case. That was on July 21. On August 3 the Central Investigating Prosecutor's Office that specializes in political cases announced that further investigation was unnecessary. According to its spokesman, the Prosecutor's Office decided that the case had no standing because no crime had been committed. They looked at the possible criminal act of "compulsion" and/or "fiduciary responsibility," but neither was applicable. As for the charge of "compulsion," it is applicable only if "someone compels someone else by physical force or threat to do or not to do something." But in this case there was no such demand. As for "fiduciary responsibility," if indeed József Balázs was the man on the phone one must investigate whether he can be considered an official or not. He as a member of the regional development authority that dispenses grants cannot be considered an official. As far as being a member of parliament, the prosecutors had to investigate whether the telephone conversation occurred in an official capacity or not. It didn't.

All in all, only general communication took place between Balázs and Juhász, claimed the Prosecutor's Office. Moreover, the spokesman added, "the suspicion of a crime must also be excluded because the reference was made only to the future during the course of the conversation." If that were the case, then we could all threaten people with impunity because the threat could be executed only in the future.

I realize that in most cases the law, at least in the U.S., doesn't prosecute threats. If a husband threatens to murder his wife, the best she can hope for is a restraining order. The husband can be prosecuted only if he actually succeeds in carrying out his threat. Blackmail is a notable exception, although this requires an explicit demand: pay me $X or I'll reveal Y about you or a member of your family–or withdraw from the election (or somehow throw it) or your town will suffer financially. Presumably the Prosecutor's Office decided that there was no explicit demand, only a threat. To my mind, at best a borderline call.

The second prosecutorial decision worthy of mention concerns the case of those Tibetans who were planning to demonstrate peacefully during the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. In accordance with the law they announced the time and place of their planned demonstration to the police. At the appointed hour the Tibetans were ordered to appear at the Office of Immigration and Citizenship with their papers proving that their presence in the Hungarian capital was legal. They were kept there for hours to prevent them from staging a demonstration.

Ombudsman Máté Szabó learned about the case from the newspapers and immediately began an investigation of the incident. He suspected that a violation of the right of assembly might be involved here. That was on June 27. More than a month later, on August 4, Szabó indeed came to the conclusion that the human rights of the Tibetans had been violated. Moreover, the police hindered their right of assembly. On the very same day the Office of the Chief Prosecutor (headed by Péter Polt, a Fidesz appointee) announced that they saw no reason for any official investigation of the case. The reason given to MTI, the Hungarian News Agency, was that "in the opinion of the Prosecutor's Office one cannot discern from the report of Ombudsman Máté Szabó that during the police action against the Tibetan demonstrators any illegal action took place. Therefore there is no reason for any investigation."

In both of these cases the Prosecutor's Office decided to step back based on a narrow reading of the law that circumvented principles of human rights and political ethics. In a firmly established democracy such parsing comes with the territory, however annoying it can often be. In a young democracy it can begin to tear at the very fabric of hard won political freedom.

Well, these are only two recent cases, but there are several other decisions that are questionable. It can happen, as it actually did, that victims become the accused thanks to the "good offices" of a highly structured and hierarchy-driven prosecutorial system in Hungary. The chief prosecutor is a Fidesz partisan who has a very important function to fulfill: punish political enemies and defend Fidesz politicians in case they are in trouble. This is a open secret. Opposition politicians accuse the Office of the Prosecutor of being an arm of Fidesz. Moreover, the chief prosecutor's tenure can, thanks to the limitless power of the government, last for a lifetime. Thus, it is very possible that Péter Polt will remain chief prosecutor for decades. And therefore the prosecutor's office will always serve Fidesz even if the party is no longer in power. A pretty dreadful situation.

 

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Pete H.
Guest

Besides these two cases of justice denied, what about the philosophers and the case of justice abused. Where does that stand?

Member

Did anyone hear back anything about complaint filed with the Media Authority against Bayer’s anti-semitic articles?
also…http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=232389
“Last week, the Austrian Press Club Concordia, an Austrian journalists’ association, filed a formal complaint alleging a violation of the non-discrimination clause contained in the European Union’s charter. According to the complaint sent to Hungary’s press commission,the Hungarian daily [Magyar Hirlap/Bayer] has refused to expunge the “anti-Semitic and misanthropic” postings.”
Let see the outcomes of those in Hungary….

Marton
Guest
Speaking of non-prosecution: everyone should watch what steps, if any, the Office of the Prosecutor will take in response to the speech delivered by Zsolt Tyirityán at last week’s Hungarian Island, a festival of the extreme right, as reported today by ATV. Tyirityán is the head of the extreme-right vigilante group Betyársereg (“Army of Bandits”) allied with the Jobbik party and a friend of Jobbik-leader Gábor Vona. It is worth remembering here that Vona’s Jobbik party grew out of the so-called Civic Circles launched by Orbán following his defeat in the 2002 elections; Fidesz has often tried to court Jobbik voters and now has reason to worry about voter defection to Jobbik. In his speech Tyirityán stated that those who want to join his group must be totally convinced of their truth and shed all doubt in order to be able to kill, if need be: what the group needs, he said, are determined single young men without families “who have on some level given up on their lives. Because either they will land in prison or they will be shot by members of the Center for Counterterrorism, or there is a third possibility, which is that we win.” Zsolt… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

I come back to this blog again and again because the excerpts of Hungarian society and politics that it chooses to present have a horrid fascination. England has its own pre-occupations, particularly this week — one wouldn’t learn about Central European events in our newspapers! — hurrah!, then, for HUNGARIAN SPECTRUM.

Joe Simon
Guest

Has any one you read Charles Gati’s book on 1956, VESZTETT ILLUZIÓK? A readable, scholarly work. The author interviewed a number of people conntected to ’56 in Hungary and even in Russia. Gati speaks highly of Király Béla, for example, for his role during the revolution and as a historian. This puzzled me, as Eva told me repeatedly what a poor historian Király was and what dubious role he played in ’56. Few people measure up to Eva’s high standards (or she is just plain cantankerous). Also, I was surprised not to see any reference to Eva in the bibliography or in the footnotes. I guess she has not produced anything regarding ’56 that is worth mentioning.

Paul
Guest

Planet Simon is indeed a weird place.
Now, meanwhile, back on planet reality…

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Some1: “Did anyone hear back anything about complaint filed with the Media Authority against Bayer’s anti-semitic articles?”
Because Karl Pfeifer is a friend of mine and also someone who comments often on this blog I think we will be the first ones to hear of the outcome. For the time being there is only silence.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Marton: “Speaking of non-prosecution: everyone should watch what steps, if any, the Office of the Prosecutor will take in response to the speech delivered by Zsolt Tyirityán at last week’s Hungarian Island, a festival of the extreme right, as reported today by ATV.”
I can never catch up. For days I have been planning to write something about this “Hungarian Island” and that it had to be a British journalist who uncovered what’s going on there. No Hungarian reporter seems to have the gumption to put on some silly garb or a neo-nazi T-shirt and write a report.
Last year two journalists did go but they didn’t have the good sense to disguise themselves and they were almost beaten up by György Zagyva, a Jobbik MP. Zagyva a few days ago lost his parliamentary immunity in connection with the case. It took a whole year to get that far.

Istvann
Guest

“Did anyone hear back anything about complaint filed with the Media Authority against Bayer’s anti-semitic articles?”
There is a misunderstanding in the Jerusalem Post article. As we all know the authority of the Media Council to issue fines began in July. And the articles it refers to were printed in January. Under the old Socialist issued media law there was not possible to do anything even if there were “anti-Jewish diabetres” as the article alleges.
However it was also not possible to move against “anti-Hungarian diabetres” appearing and now they both are opening up a large debates on what could be considered anti-x. We already know that a large segment of the population and Fidesz considers some attacks against the government or the “legmagasabb közjogi méltóságok” to be possibly anti-Hungarian. So these passages could be used to silence negative criticism against multiple ethnicities or even things termed or labeled as criticism.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Istvann: “As we all know the authority of the Media Council to issue fines began in July. And the articles it refers to were printed in January.”
I love all those well informed people who make great pronouncements about mistakes made by foreign media outlets.
The warning to Népszava from the Media Authority was dated on June 28 about comments made on June 8, that is before July 1.
Thus if the Media Authorities wanted to start proceeding against Népszava for comments written before July 1, I guess they could, if they wanted to do, write a letter to Magyar Hírlap for something written in January. Comments in both papers appeared before July 1.

Istvann
Guest

“The warning to Népszava from the Media Authority”
I am not familiar with such a warning going out to Nepszava from the Médiahatóság. I know of a Media Ombudsman (Médiabiztos) letter to written, but the Ombudsman is not an authority and has no power to issue fines make judgements etc. As far as I know the Ombudsman’s role is to refer cases to the Media Council. He wrote a letter, not referring to any specific comment but asking general questions, than didn’t forward the case and nothing ever came of it.
Nor could have anything come of it as you said the comments were written before july 1, the Media Council had no jurisdiction and upon realizing that they did not do anything. They didn’t fine Nepszava they did not order Nepszava to do anything. So they didn’t do anything that could influence a paper to change it’s editorial style, but that is necessary to stop any alleged anti-x diabetres.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Istvann: “Nor could have anything come of it as you said the comments were written before july 1, the Media Council had no jurisdiction and upon realizing that they did not do anything.”
Maybe you should take a look at the letter once again. It is true that he called himself ombudsman but he isn’t.
http://www.nepszava.hu/dokumentumok/media_biztos_level.pdf

Member
Istvann, There are certainly new surprises every day by how, when, and where Fidesz will use its legal resources to address serious issues. Correct me if I am wrong, but what you are suggesting here is that prior to the divine laws that came into force on July 1st, there were no laws that would stop hate crime in Hungary? You should start some light research on that, because there were plenty of laws. Maybe Fidesz needs to be educated what considers to be hate crime: A hate crime is one in which hate is the motive and can involve intimidation or incite hatred, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force against a person, a group or a property. Bayer’s article(s) indeed fit the bill. Wouldn’t you say so? You did not need new laws, and new excuses. What Fidesz needed was to use the laws that were created and are supposed to be used. Orban went to law school, so I am sure even he was familiar with some of the existing laws that could be used. “Fidesz considers some attacks against the government or the “legmagasabb közjogi méltóságok” to be possibly anti-Hungarian.” I think you spelled it… Read more »
Member

Joe Simon: “Also, I was surprised not to see any reference to Eva in the bibliography or in the footnotes. I guess she has not produced anything regarding ’56 that is worth mentioning.” Well sir I did not find anything about you anywhere either. So, are you worthy enough? You are like one of those Eastern Europeans who goes out shopping in Vienna or in Paris and only buys items that has a huge logo on it. THe bigger the logo, the better the item. D&G, Channel, etc. Simon, not everyone needs to get into the history books for any price to have some healthy self esteem.

Istvann
Guest

“there were no laws that would stop hate crime in Hungary? You should start some light research on that, because there were plenty of laws.”
Free speech can only be limited within the parameters of the media law. The old 1987 and 1997 press and media laws were quite liberal in terms of defending free speech. It is no wonder that what you say (prosecuting people for press articles saying they are hate crimes) didn’t actually happen much. Could you cite an example from the past 20 years where someone was convicted for writing an article that was a “hate crime” as you say?

Member
Istvann, Why do I need to find an example form the last 20 years exactly? I am not even looking for cases in the last twenty years. I am very specific to this case. Am I not? Maybe I was oblivious to similar articles before but certainly the previous governments did not embarked on a witch hunt either or tried to protect the writers of anti-semitic hate materials. THere are huge differences between hate propaganda and free speech. Saying that I hate every Jew, that is bad, unfortunate, could be a fact, what one has every right to say it. To say that it was not enough Jews killed under the White Terror, well that is hate propaganda. Do you spot the difference? Allowing someone to ask that “Who the f*ck is Melia? “that is part of free speech and shows that whoever is asking is complete idiot, not worthy to be a politician. The option to post my opinion about the politician who asked that question belongs to my right to free speech, freedom of expression. To ask that because I think this politician is not worthy to represent Hungary can be equated with being anti-Hungarian is ridiculous. Maybe… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Éva – who was the British journalist, and do you have a link to what they wrote?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Paul: ‘Éva – who was the British journalist, and do you have a link to what they wrote?”
Bryan Flinn of The Sun

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
Paul
Guest

Thanks, Éva, I found it by accident shortly after posting my question (via politics.hu).
Of all the papers! The rag that has built its success on peddling right-wing, racist, anti-EU lies. The ‘newspaper’ that has right-wing opinion pieces on page 2 and, opposite, on page 3 a full page picture of a semi-naked young woman.
But they don’t cover the Tyirityán speech at all – probably because they didn’t understand a word of it! Did ATV have their own reporter there?
And just how many Hungarian men’s names starting with Z are difficult to pronounce – Zoltán, Zsigmond, Zsolt?

Guest

@Joe Simon: Charles Gati is the one who wrote this ?
““Let us be under no illusions; it will not escape the attention of investors if the US government declares that it no longer considers Hungary a stable democracy,” Gati underlined.”
http://www.politics.hu/20110811/professor-warns-of-us-ramifications/#comment-55971

kincs
Guest
The lack of any action on József Balázs by prosecutors, his party or the government is outrageous. In a mature democracy – and Hungary is a less mature democracy now than ten years ago – no party would tolerate for 24 hours the presence within it of someone who so blatantly made clear the link between state funding and party allegiance. Fidesz, ever mindful of the need to dominate the media agenda, keeps this out of the public mind by ignoring it and hoping it will go away. And the decision by their minions in the prosecutors offices means that it will go away; people will forget about it. They did something similar with the MP who made racist comments two or three years ago. Fidesz – as ever putting its own interests ahead of those of the state or society – didn’t expel him or reprimand him in any way for fear of bad publicity; they just didn’t renominate him as a candidate in the 2010 elections. The lasting effect is that racist remarks are seen to be acceptable. Likewise with Balázs. Fidesz will probably sideline him or remove him at some point in the future when this incident… Read more »
Paul
Guest

Fidesz have always trodden a very thin line between ignoring racism and condoning it. A clever tactic, as it keeps the extreme right voters loyal, but at the same time means they can deny any racist leanings.
But they should remember that playing with fire usually results in the house being burnt down.

track runner
Guest

“To say that it was not enough Jews killed under the White Terror, well that is hate propaganda.”
I don’t think anyone would say such massive stupidity as noone was killed at 1919-20 for being a Jew. Red terror was raging only a few months before and perpetrators were executed for being Red terrorists. People killing Communist terrorists is not the same thing as the Holocaust where Jews were targeted for being born a Jew.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Track runner: “I don’t think anyone would say such massive stupidity as noone was killed at 1919-20 for being a Jew.”
Have you ever read the Diary of Pál Prónay? Did you ever read newspapers from 1919-1920? I doubt it. However, I did and I know that some people were killed only because they were Jewish.
As for the Red Terror. Indeed, according to the statistics gathered by the Hungarian chief prosecutor, about 300 people were killed during the Hungarian Soviet Republic’s existence. As opposed to approximately 1,200 during the White Terror. Check it out in Ignác Romsics’s book on the history of Hungary in the 20th century.

Member

track runner, you must do some reading. To make it easy, here is a little gem with references about Pronay, if you cannot read the diary Eva suggested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pál_Prónay

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear “Some 1”:
“Maybe you want to read the Btk. 269. §
Közösség elleni izgatás
269. § Aki nagy nyilvánosság előtt
a) a magyar nemzet,
b) valamely nemzeti, etnikai, faji, vallási csoport vagy a lakosság egyes csoportjai ellen
gyűlöletre uszít, bűntett miatt három évig terjedő szabadságvesztéssel büntetendő.”
This is very clear and well defined. I agree/ support. I assume this does not include speaches or actions against the politics any of those named entities /part of them/ might happen to follow at the time.
Peter Litvanyi

peter litvanyi
Guest

One important part I forgot to include:
“this does not include any lawful and democratically acceptable speaches or actions” as it reads. Now there is another road; one doesn’t want to be like one’s enemies.
Mr. Orban should resign right now: while the going is good.
Peter Litvanyi

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