Miklós Hargitai's open letter to Viktor Orbán on the fate of Népszabadság and its employees

October 23, 2016

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“Two weeks after the introduction of the unlawful measures we perhaps have the right to ask the following question: did the government declare open season on Népszabadság employees, or is it willing to finally stand up for maintaining the law?”

The following open letter addressed to Viktor Orbán appeared in online daily 444.hu on Saturday, October 22nd.

Dear Prime Minister:

Recently you declared that the government has nothing to do with press freedom and the Népszabadság, but that if the paper’s employees seek you out, you will deal with the matter.  I ask that you consider this letter as the seeking out you found missing.

In the recent past the government inundated the country in billboards saying “If you come to Hungary, you have to obey our laws.”  Since the suspension on October 8th of my colleagues at Népszabadság, we have been wondering whether this was only meant for those refugees who persistently avoid Hungary, or whether this was also valid for foreign investors doing business with the government.

The following serious violations have taking place with the employees of the foreign owned newspaper over the past two weeks: 

  • The decision to cease publishing the Népszababság was made by a supervisory committee in whose work the person delegated by the employees was not able to participate owing to a mistake on the part of the employer.
  • We were notified of the decision in a legally invalid manner in the form of a letter containing neither a signature nor a date.
  • The employer did not fulfill its obligation to negotiate with us as prescribed by law in the case of actions affecting larger groups.
  • The employer lied to the employees: it represented the closure of the Népszabadság as a simple move of offices.
  • The employees were locked out of their email accounts and their office computers and remained locked out (this not only interferes with daily communication but renders it impossible to fulfill our legal obligation to protect our sources).
  • Since being suspended from work, the employees have been denied access to their workplaces, and only some of their personal items have been returned.
  • To this day we have not been granted access to our notes and hand-written materials stored in the editorial office systems and computers (which are our intellectual property according to the law).
  • Neither work council nor trade union leaders are being admitted to the area of the workplace where presently a number of members of the mentioned organizations are working.
  • The contents of Népszabadság Online have disappeared along with 20 years worth of content from the internet in violation of our rights to inform and our rights relating to the content. 
  • To this day the employer has not informed us how long it wishes to suspend our employment and when it plans to end the coercive measures. 

In relation to the legal breaches listed above, we have taken the necessary legal steps, relying on the impartial, law-respecting behavior of state authorities.  Nevertheless, two weeks after the introduction of the unlawful measures we perhaps have the right to ask the following question:  did the government declare open season on Népszabadság employees, or is it willing to finally stand up for maintaining the law? 

According to the constitution, it is the task of the government to protect constitutional order, and to ensure the rights of citizens, and guarantee the enforcement of laws.  Does the constitution not apply to the suspended workers of Népszabadság?  Or is it possible the government stands on the side of those violating the law?

Please inform us whether enough legal violations have taken place for the government to act, or, to the contrary, does the Austrian owned publisher continue to enjoy the passive support of the government as it disrespects Hungary’s laws and the rights of eighty Hungarian employees with impunity?

By way of closing I would like to note that your wonderful proposal that we find work at other left-wing publications indicates that you already know what our employer has not told us: that contrary to the promises made by the publisher of Népszabadság, it will never be restarted.

With respect,

Miklós Hargitai

Co-chair of the press trade union

Secretary of the Népszabadság trade union