Tag Archives: police brutality

Hot topics of the day: Budaházy and Ráhel Orbán

The Hungarian media was preoccupied with two topics today. The first was the reaction to the stiff sentences handed out in the case of György Budaházy and his co-conspirators, who were convicted of terrorist activities. The other was the recent discovery of mysterious “negotiations” undertaken by Ráhel Orbán, eldest child of the prime minister, and her husband, István Tiborcz, in Bahrain.

The day after the trial

As one could anticipate, the Hungarian extreme right is outraged. Jobbik’s official internet news site is full of stories of the “seventeen patriots” who were in the forefront of the “national resistance” against the traitorous Gyurcsány government. What Budaházy and his friends did in 2006-2007 was a historic act. László Toroczkai, an old friend of Budaházy who today is the Jobbik mayor of Ásotthalom at the Serbian-Hungarian border, is demanding that Fidesz take a stand on the issue.

But Fidesz refuses to make any comments on the case. The closest approximation to a comment was an opinion piece by Zsolt Bayer that appeared today in Magyar Hírlap. Bayer’s memories of terrorist acts committed by the Budaházy gang, I suspect, are purposely vague. He remembers “some kind of a video of some kind of an explosion,” but basically he can’t imagine that this gentle man could possibly commit such atrocities. He is just hoping that there is “real evidence.”

In connection with the case, Bayer poses a number of questions: “Were they really the ones who threw Molotov cocktails into the houses of politicians? Were they the ones who beat up Csintalan?” And don’t forget, “the body is missing that lay on the street in Olaszliszka* as well as the one that was lifted from the lake in Kaposvár**.” Finally, Bayer says, comes the most important question: if Budaházy received 13 years, then what about Ferenc Gyurcsány and Péter Gergényi, police chief of Budapest at the time of the 2006 disturbances? After all, they are “the two most notorious miscreants of the age.” This question must be asked because “without Gyurcsány, Gergényi (and Draskovics, Szilvásy, and Bajnai) there is no Budaházy.” In brief, the guilty ones are not Budaházy and his fellow terrorists but the governments of Gyurcsány and Bajnai. I take Bayer’s attitude toward the Budaházy case to be a reasonably close approximation to the views of the Fidesz leadership.

András Schiffer’s Facebook note “Budaházy 13 years, how many for shooting out eyes” drew appreciative comments from the right, including Fidesz sympathizers. Viktor Orbán has been trying for years to implicate Gyurcsány in the “police brutality” during the 2006 street disturbances. Up to now they have been unsuccessful. They couldn’t come up with anything to tie Gyurcsány to the police action at the time. The decision to deal with the situation was entirely in the hands of the police chief and his close associates. And even at that level, although the Orbán government brought charges against Gergényi, they couldn’t prove their case.

According to Jobbik and Fidesz supporters, what happened on the streets in 2006 was “police terror,” pure and simple. They therefore equate the “terrorism” of Gyurcsány with the terrorist acts of Budaházy and his companions. The other side, by contrast, remains convinced that the disturbances were an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of the country and that Fidesz politicians were in touch with the leaders of the mob that was supposed spark a general revolt in the population. It just didn’t work out. András Schiffer, who is allegedly a democratic politician, sided with the extreme right and Fidesz on this issue. It is no wonder that the liberals and socialists are outraged.

The most eloquent condemnation of Schiffer came from Árpád W. Tóta in HVG, according to whom “András Schiffer took a deep breath and sank to the deep where Krisztina Morvai*** resides.” Schiffer should know the difference between an accident that happens during the dispersion of a crowd and premeditated criminal acts committed in a conspiratorial manner. Tóta admits that he never had a good opinion of Schiffer, but he never thought that Schiffer was wired into the same circuit as Krisztina Morvai. I can only agree with Tóta.

Ráhel Orbán and her husband in Bahrain

I must say that Ráhel Orbán, who by now is 27 years old, gets herself into a lot of trouble, unlike her brother Gáspár and younger sister Sára. One reason is that she appears to be interested in politics. Moreover, it seems that father and daughter work together on projects. As we know, Ráhel is interested in the entertainment and tourist industry. A few months ago there was a lot of talk about the government’s centralization of the industry under an umbrella organization in which Ráhel might play a prominent role. But, and this is yesterday’s scoop, it seems that Ráhel might also have been given an unofficial diplomatic assignment.

444.hu discovered an article on the website of Bahrain’s National Oil & Gas Authority (NOGA) with accompanying photos showing the Minister of Energy Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza, Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the general-secretary of NOGA, Ms. Ráhel Orbán, mistakenly identified as the wife of the prime minister of Hungary, and Balázs Garamvölgyi, the Hungarian consul in Bahrain. István Tiborcz, also in the picture, was not identified in the caption. This visit took place in September 2015. According to the article

They discussed a number of global oil and gas market and energy issues (…) investment opportunities and expanding economic and trade ties between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Hungary. They discussed the benefit to the national economy in both friendly countries from improved cooperation.

Ms. Orban and her accompanying delegation expressed their deep appreciation to H.E. Dr. Mirza and thanked him for the warm reception and issues discussed, which were aimed at creating a sustainable business environment and helping build new trade and investment bridges between the two countries that will enhance the economic interests of both. They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

The press department of the prime minister’s office had no information on Ráhel Orbán’s trip to Bahrain. A few hours later, however, Ráhel Orbán in her usual arrogant style released a statement saying that “between September 17 and 20, 2015 my husband and I paid a private visit to Barhrain [sic]. We paid for all expenses. All other claims are lies,” I guess even NOGA’s press release. Diplomacy is not her strength. Father and daughter express themselves forcefully. Of course, this answer is no answer at all. No one claimed that it was the Hungarian government that paid for their trip. The issue is her involvement in negotiations with Bahrain’s minister of energy.

bahrein1

Panic must have set in government circles after the revelations of 444.hu and word must have reached the politicians in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, because by now the objectionable text about negotiations has disappeared and has been replaced by the following:

Minister of Energy His Excellency Dr. Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza received in his office at the National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) on a courtesy visit, the daughter of Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary Ms. Rahel Orban, accompanied by the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Hungary to the Kingdom of Bahrain Mr. Balazs Garamvolgyi, in the presence of Dr. Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the NOGA General Secretary.

H.E. Dr. Mirza welcomed the distinguished visitors in the Kingdom of Bahrain and gave a brief overview of the economy of Bahrain.

Ms. Orban and the accompanying guests expressed their deep appreciation for H.E. Dr. Mirza, and thanked him for the warm reception.

They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

Journalists at Index had a lot of fun with Balázs Garamvölgyi, who gave “probably the best mini-interview of his life” because he conveniently forgot what he was doing in Bahrain. As he said, “it was last September and I really no longer remember.” But one thing HírTV managed to learn: Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, had no knowledge of any official trip undertaken by Ráhel and her husband to Bahrain.

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

The latest piece of news is that one month after Ráhel Orbán’s visit to Bahrain a delegation from MOL, an international oil and gas company headquartered in Budapest, paid a visit to Abdul Hussein bin Ali Mirza, minister and head of the National Oil and Gas Authority. Garamvölgyi, who seems to have miraculously recovered from amnesia, insists that the two visits had absolutely nothing to do with one another. Of course not. The author of the blog “Most és Itt” (Now and Here) told this story in the form of a fairy tale (“The little royal princess Ráhel in Bahrain”). Most adults no longer believe in fairy tales just as we don’t believe that the two events had nothing to do with one another. Let’s finish this story with the customary last line in Hungarian fairy tales: “Itt a vége, fuss el véle.” Here is the end, run with it.

—-

*Olaszliszka was the town where a group of Roma killed a man driving through town because they thought that a little girl had been killed by his car.

**A reference to the brutal murder of a little boy whose body was thrown into a lake near Kaposvár in 2012.

***Krisztina Morvai began her career as a liberal civil rights lawyer but eventually ended up as a fiercely anti-Semitic member of Jobbik. Currently she represents the party in the EU Parliament.

August 31, 2016

Orbán’s crack police force in action at the Serb-Hungarian border

It was on September 16 that the Hungarian police, with the active help of members of TEK, the so-called anti-terrorist force created by Viktor Orbán to serve as his and his regime’s bodyguards, brutally attacked a group of refugees. The asylum seekers had been led to believe that the Hungarian authorities had decided after all to open one of the gates on the freshly closed border between Serbia and Hungary. Given the large number of reporters and cameramen on the scene, many videos and descriptions of the “battle” exist. Although nowadays an event that took place more than two weeks ago no longer holds much interest, this story doesn’t want to die.

One reason for the survival of the story in the media is that it was not only asylum seekers who were beaten by members of TEK but also journalists and cameramen who were on the spot. Altogether eight reporters were beaten by the Hungarian special forces, three of whom were also arrested and held at police headquarters in nearby Szeged. These people made sure that their story would be told and retold. Hardly a day has passed without a report in the Hungarian media on the incident.

One of the witnesses (and victims) was Warren Richardson, an Australian freelance photographer, who summed up TEK’s role in the event as “a dress rehearsal.” As he put it, “the TEK boys wanted to find out how successfully they can handle an antagonistic crowd.”

This interpretation assumes premeditation. Descriptions of events to date strongly suggest that TEK did indeed receive instructions from above to create a situation that would necessitate aggressive police action. TEK is subordinated to Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, a former high-ranking police officer of questionable reputation who has a permanent place in every Orbán government, which suggests a special relationship between him and the prime minister. Given the nature of governance under Viktor Orbán, if instructions to attack came from above, it had to be from the prime minister himself.

But why would Viktor Orbán want to provoke such an incident, which has been injurious to his government’s reputation? The standard explanation is his desire to prove to Hungarians, already suspicious of the motives of the migrants, that these people are indeed a dangerous and violent lot who ought to be feared. It is true that a few hours earlier some young men threw rocks at the policemen guarding the border and broke through the fence, but the riot police handled the situation easily with teargas and water cannons. No one could dispute the right of the Hungarian police to defend themselves against bodily harm, and if a few hours later the “TEK boys” hadn’t decided to attack peaceful asylum seekers, nobody would have complained.

The government normally justifies TEK’s attack on the crowd by describing it as an answer to the rowdies in the crowd who were throwing rocks at the police. But that gives a false account  of the events. The rock throwing took place at around 2:30 in the afternoon, and the TEK attack occurred after 5:30. Moreover, the two incidents took place at a considerable distance from each other.

Why did the asylum seekers think they could legally cross into Hungary? The police phalanx retreated about 30-35 meters from the fence and opened the gate to allow a sick little girl and her family to cross into Hungary. At this point the crowd, thinking that the Hungarian authorities had officially opened the gate and that they were allowed to proceed, began chanting: “Thank you, thank you, Hungary!” It was at that point that members of TEK, who had arrived on the scene shortly before, began their attack.

Yesterday Atlatszo.hu published a description of the events at the border by two reporters, the aforementioned Australian Warren Richardson and Tímea Beck, the photo reporter for the Slovak Dennik N internet news site. Richardson was badly beaten by a TEK man, who, according to him, smiled as he kicked Richardson four or five times in the head. Finally, he was arrested and taken to police headquarters. Although he was kept there for twelve hours, eventually the authorities let him go without fingerprinting him or even making a report. He knew his rights, which frustrated his interrogators, who for a good twelve hours madly tried to come up with some piece of legislation that would fit Richardson’s “crime.” Eventually they simply gave up.

Tímea Beck from Slovakia is certain that “the members of TEK received orders from above.” She also describes the situation as entirely peaceful. Most of the people who were attacked by TEK were women and children. When the TEK force arrived everybody started running, including Beck who received the first blow on her back and later two more on her shoulder. At this point she thought that if she speaks Hungarian and explains that she is a journalist perhaps she could make headway with the TEK people, but she was told “to shut up because [she] has no right to speak.” One of the TEK people handcuffed her, threw her on the ground, and took her along with Warren Richardson and the Polish reporter Jacek Tacik to police headquarters in Szeged, where they accused her of illegally crossing the border. Tacik, as the picture below shows, suffered a fairly serious head injury. He was originally accused of attacking a policeman, but eventually all charges were dropped.

Jacek Tacik, the Polish journalist who wasn't beaten

Jacek Tacik, the Polish journalist who, according to the government, wasn’t beaten

These three journalists were not the only ones who were hurt. According to the latest count, eight journalists were beaten by members of TEK during the encounter, including the entire camera crew of the Serbian public television station. They also claimed that the Hungarians purposely broke their equipment. The police denied that they manhandled any journalists, which might be correct, strictly speaking, if we assume that the assault came from TEK and not the regular police.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) immediately denounced the attack on and arrest of journalists by the Hungarian authorities. So did the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which found the manhandling of journalists who are reporting on an event of worldwide interest unacceptable. Nina Orgnianova, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, announced that “the Hungarian government must make a clear and unequivocal statement that it will not tolerate such behavior.” I’m afraid she can wait for that statement.

At the moment the Hungarian government is in desperate search of a bona fide terrorist among the refugees. They arrested a few suspects, but apparently proving their guilt has been difficult. I don’t know whether they have given up on the idea or whether they have decided to continue their investigation. Finding a terrorist would be a real coup for Orbán’s propaganda machine.

Accused of stealing a chainsaw, a few hours later he was beaten to death by two Hungarian policemen

I’m not exaggerating. I had to read about 150 articles before I managed to get a more or less accurate picture of what happened in Izsák, where on April 8 two policemen during an ordinary interrogation regarding the possible theft of a chainsaw beat a suspect to death.

The news hit the national media only late afternoon on April 10. The Izsák police force was not too eager to release the news. But such a sensational case cannot be “localized.” So, they first fired and eventually arrested the two policemen suspected of the murder and for good measure got rid of two of their superiors. But these were low-level officers. Higher up in the hierarchy no one was ready to take responsibility, although by that time it became clear that police brutality was fairly widespread in the County of Bács-Kiskun.

That a man is beaten to death by policemen is not an everyday occurrence in Hungary. In fact, Ferenc Krémer, who for years taught sociology at the Police Academy, can’t remember a single case in his lifetime.

According to critics of the government, it is no coincidence that the first shocking instance of police brutality took place in 2013 and not, let’s say, in 2009. Commentators called attention to the fact that the government majority in parliament passed legislation that allows the police to interrogate suspects without legal representation in the first twenty-four hours. Also, the current government’s approach to law and order is based on strict enforcement. “Let’s be tough on crime” is the slogan. Thus, members of the police force feel empowered to behave aggressively in the war against crime. The government set up a “Complaint Committee” (Panaszbizottság) to investigate unfair treatment by the police and almost 2,000 complaints reached the committee last year. Fewer than thirty were actually investigated.

So, what happened in this case? The victim’s name is József Bara (47). He lived with his partner of fifteen years, Andrea, in a well-kept but secluded house (tanya) at the end of a dirt road in the town next to Izsák, Orgovány. Bara was one of the many Romanian-Hungarians who settled in the area. So was his neighbor, who calls himself a proud Szekler. The two were on good terms a few years back but lately they had a lot of arguments. Moreover, Bara had a run-in with the police a few years back because he got into an argument with somebody that ended in a brawl.

It was about a year ago that the proud Szekler’s chainsaw was stolen. After months of investigation the police couldn’t come up with a suspect. At this point the Szekler neighbor started investigating the case himself . He came to the conclusion that his neighbor, József Bara, was the one who stole his chainsaw. How did he figure that out? His chainsaw had a faulty part, and he claimed that only he knew how to start the machine. He found out that Bara had gone to have a chainsaw repaired because he had difficulty starting it. The neighbor was sure that he had found the culprit. He went to the police.

Two young police officers arrived at Bara’s house to investigate. Bara and his partner were on their way home, walking on the dirt road leading to their house, when the police car caught up with them. In no time the two officers pushed him to the ground and buried his head in the sand. Andrea was worried that he might suffocate and asked him not to struggle. The policemen wanted to search the house, but it turned out that they didn’t have a warrant. Because the house was in Andrea’s name, she refused to let them in. She claimed that Bara had nothing to do with the chainsaw and that there was no chainsaw in their house.

The policeman's fist after the beating / kecskemeti-hirhatar.hu

The policeman’s fist after the beating / kecskemeti-hirhatar.hu

So the two policemen put Bara into their car and drove him to the Izsák police station. By 11 p.m. Bara was dead.

Two policeman arrived at Andrea’s house at 1 a.m. and drove her to the police station. Without telling her that her partner was dead, they interrogated her, mostly about what kinds of medication Bara was taking. They were also interested in drug use. Clearly, the idea was to find some reason other than the beating for Bara’s death.

Eventually, around three o’clock in the morning, Andrea was told that Bara was no longer alive. The story she heard was that  Bara just fell off the chair and to their surprise they found that he was dead! Luckily Andrea was no fool and called József’s brother to join her. He took a look at the body and reported that the man was so severely beaten from the waist up that he was practically unrecognizable. His face was described as “smashed flat.”

One of the two policemen has since testified that they acted in self-defense. It’s hard to believe that a 47-year -old man could beat up two armed policemen in their twenties! Four days after the event the policemen’s superiors charged the dead man with assaulting the interrogating policeman. Can one charge a dead man? Sure, I guess one can, but what’s the use?

What kind of men were these two policemen? Viktor B. had a reputation as a “tough guy” who was known to beat suspects before. He promised that he “would clean up the place” and behaved accordingly. The mayor of Izsák, however, expressed his surprise about stories allegingViktor B.’s cruel behavior because up to this point there was no complaint about him. The 24-member force was a good group of people. In fact, one of the suspects in the Bara murder case was already accepted into TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), which is often described as Viktor Orbán’s personal army. Naturally, the defense lawyer of Viktor B., Zsuzsanna Kiszely, also finds it impossible to imagine that this upright man who was such a devoted policeman would have acted against the rules and regulations of the Hungarian police. His whole adult life has been devoted to serving his country and its police force.

The latest turn of events might shed some light on what happened during the night of April 8 in the Izsák police station. A third policeman came forth and broke the old rule that a policeman doesn’t rat out a colleague. He felt that he had to tell the truth. He was an eyewitness. Apparently he tried to stop the beating but without success. But whether his man’s testimony will make any difference only time will tell. According to police regulations, a witness must come forth immediately, not four days later.

Opposition critics rightly point out that the new law introduced by the Orbán government that can deprive the accused of having a lawyer present in the first twenty-four hours gives an undue advantage to the investigators who can pressure the accused to confess to a crime he may not have committed. The tough rhetoric used by the Orbán government in general and the Ministry of Interior in particular under the leadership of Sándor Pintér, a former police chief, may permeate the atmosphere of the police force. The motto of the Hungarian Police is “We serve and defend!” but in the last few years the emphasis has been on “punishment.” Here is the result. Moreover, according to the investigative reports of some journalists, beatings at the police stations in the County of Bács-Kiskun are quite common. People are afraid to complain or, if they do, nothing happens.

A final comment. As I mentioned earlier, József Bara was a Romanian citizen. The Romanian foreign ministry is naturally interested to what happened to one of their own. The two policemen from Izsák surely didn’t think that the case would get as far as Bucharest.