Hungarian Prison Service Headquarters terminates agreements with NGOs

October 16, 2017

Hungarian Prison Service Headquarters terminated agreements with NGOs
Detainees on the yard of the Vác Strict and Medium Regime Prison. Photo: abcug.hu/Márton Magócsi

The Hungarian Prison Service Headquarters (BVOP) has terminated bilateral agreements with two detainee rights advocacy NGOs.

As of October 1, the BVOP has ended the agreement with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) that allowed the NGO to enter prison premises and inspect whether the rights of prisoners are enforced, according to HHC’s statement. Director General of BVOP Major General Dr. Tamás Tóth justified the move by arguing that the rights of the detainees can be secured without the agreement, which had been renewed multiple times since its 1999 adoption.

Based on the agreement, members of HHC were allowed to enter prisons, conduct inspections and start procedures based on individual complaints. Over the course of the 18-year cooperation between HHC and the BVOP, the NGO revealed the effects of overcrowding and anomalies of pre-trial detention. The agreement also allowed detainees to request information and aid in matters regarding their incarceration.

According to HHC, over the course of the agreement, the NGO was in an “exemplary correct” relationship with BVOP. BVOP had regularly commended HHC’s reports and on multiple occasions had incorporated the NGO’s suggestions into its practices. The HHC statement says that some 18,000 detainees and tens of thousands of family members now have a reduced ability to see the rights of detainees enforced, and those who are left without support in prison have a reduced ability to get aid.

“The poor in the prison are ever so much poorer, the weak in the prison are ever so much weaker, the disenfranchised in the prison are ever so so much more disenfranchised,” HHC concludes. “People locked up in prison are left without external support, the society is left without reliable information.”

BVOP has also terminated its agreement with the Speak Out Association, which together with the detainees operated prison radio channels in three penal institutions, according to an Index.hu report. Under the now-terminated agreement, Speak Out provided radio training to detainees, who edited their own program with the constant help of civil mentors. Speak Out said the termination of the agreement had been justified by the fact that they had only requested authorization to broadcast a classified program that they wanted to use for an application before the broadcast started, instead of requesting authorization before handing in the program to the jury.

The NGO’s statement writes that over the course of the four years of cooperation with BVOP, the association, in harmony with the aims of the penal institution, has efficiently worked for the social reintegration of detainees.

“We have provided a day-long, meaningful, developing intellectual occupation for nearly 40 detainees and broadcasted reintegrating, stress lowering, educative material to hundreds of detainees every day.”

Index.hu tried to contact BVOP for an explanation but the Headquarters failed to answer the news portal’s questions. Instead, on Monday BVOP refuted the claims of both NGOs in the pro-government daily Magyar Idők. HHC policing program leader Dávid Vig told Index.hu: “It is sad that the both of us have to work based on Magyar Idők, instead of BVOP informing the public.” Vig welcomed that according to the BVOP statement in Magyar Idők, HHC would still be able to represent detainees and detainees would still be able to contact HHC by letter. However, the monitoring program has been indeed terminated.

Despite BVOP’s claim that the Vác prison radio is still broadcasting, employees of Speak Out have left all three prisons, Speak Out psychologist Judit Hajdú told Index.hu. “I don’t know what do they mean by the radio is still broadcasting in Vác as we haven’t received official information regarding the future,” Hajdú said. As past programs can be easily re-played from a data stick, it is possible that the Vác station might be broadcasting older programs which do not require assistance from Speak Out employees, she argued.