We reported in November that the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) had started a campaign to raise awareness about Hungary’s defamation laws. The informational campaign, aptly named “Politikuss” (“kuss” means “be quiet” in Hungarian), was pretty clear cut: defamation is punishable both as a civil and a criminal offense. In the case of criminal charges of defamation, MPs, mayors and government officials are more equal under the law than your average citizen, the former having Hungarian law enforcement officials and prosecutors at their disposal, while the average citizen does not.
For example, your average citizen would have to hire an attorney to represent them in a defamation case. For mayors, MPs and government officials, they can count on the state providing legal counsel, the police doing the investigating, and Hungarian prosecutors doing the prosecuting. All of this amounts to a free service provided by the state to the aggrieved politician or public figure.
Upon being indicted for criminal defamation, the citizen is fingerprinted, photographed and has their DNA sampled, before any verdict is reached.
Last Monday the HCLU managed to work its proposal all the way up to the Hungarian Parliament’s Justice Committee for deliberation. Independent MP Zoltán Kész of Veszprém submitted the proposal to the committee, hoping the committee would put discussion of the proposal on the agenda.
There were two votes on the issue: one to let HCLU address the committee, another to put the proposal on the agenda
Vote #1: Failed. Committee votes down attempt to allow HCLU to address the body
Committee chairman György Rubovszky (Fidesz-KDNP) opened the meeting by announcing that representatives of the HCLU had requested permission to address the committee. Rubovszky said the parliamentary rules wouldn’t allow for the civil organization to do so, but then quickly corrected his statement upon hearing that it was possible for the NGO to address the committee pending a vote by the committee’s members. The committee’s opposition MPs voted in favor of allowing the HCLU to speak but the Fidesz-KDNP majority voted against it and won.
Vote #2: Failed. Committee votes down attempt to put the proposal on the agenda
Fidesz-KDNP and Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) MPs voted against putting the HCLU’s proposal on the committee’s agenda. Opposition MPs, including those representing far-right party Jobbik, voted in favor of allowing the committee to put the proposal on the agenda, except for Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) Gergely Bárándy.