Appeals court upholds sentences for assailants in Budapest Pride assault case

July 5, 2017

Counter-protesters at Budapest Pride

Criminal convictions against five men who assaulted three people after the 2013 Budapest Pride march have been upheld by the Budapest court of appeals, reports hvg.hu. The court found that the men had committed crimes against members of a community, the Hungarian legal equivalent of hate crimes.

The appeals court highlighted the homophobic and racist statements and chants uttered by the assailants as they beat the victims as the latter walked home after Pride, the annual LGBTQ march. The victims had been confronted by a group of some 30 black-clad protesters in military formation near Nyugati Square, after which the victims were surrounded and beaten by while the assailants yelled “You’re fags! You’re gypsies!”

An investigation into the incident revealed that several of the assailants belonged to the New Hungarian Guard (Új Magyar Gárda), a neo-Nazi successor group to the banned Hungarian Guard. Two of the assailants held leadership roles in the organization.

A first-level court convicted the five assailants in November, 2016, and sentenced two to mandatory time in prison and three to suspended prison sentences. The appeals court upheld the convictions, but reduced the sentence of one of the assailants from prison time to a suspended sentence, and reduced one assailant’s suspended sentence from five to four years.

The appeals court also overturned the first-level court’s decision that the homophobic and racist chanting that took place was protected under freedom of expression laws. The appeals court determined that such chanting, when conducted in a large group, could not be considered protected free speech since it incites panic, which is prohibited by the penal code.

“This is a very important ruling which makes it clear that extremist counter-protesters cannot rely on freedom of expression when they try to intimidate Pride march participants with mass-chanting,” said Tamás Dombos, a member of the LGBTQ advocacy group Háttér Társaság (Background Society), which represented the victims in court. “We trust that in the future the police will oppose the participants of such hate-inspiring movements with due rigor.”

Budapest’s 21st annual Pride march will be held on Saturday. Organizers have requested that police secure the march without cordoning off the entire length of the procession, as has been customary since the 2007 march when some 100 counter-protesters brutally attacked Pride participants. According to index.hu, Pride organizers have requested a cordon-free march for several years from police in absence of renewed attacks on the march by counter-protesters or extremist groups, but without result.

“We’ve been asking the police for years not to hermetically seal the entire route of the march,” Pride spokesperson Cintia Karlik said. “It’s certain that this year we won’t be moving in the unjustifiably and disproportionately closed area.”