Együtt (Together) party co-chair Péter Juhász and several colleagues were turned away by a police cordon this morning when they tried to advance toward the site of a planned protest near Parliament. The confrontation took place at the corner of Alkotmány (Constitution) street and Bajcsy Zsilinszky street, where a police spokesman told Juhász that an order from Hungary’s counter-terrorism force (TEK) required a specified area to be sealed around the Parliament ahead of the arrival of Russian President Vladimir Putin later today, and police would execute the order to ensure that no protest could be held within the perimeter. After negotiations, Juhász relocated the protest to the corner of Markó street and Bajcsy Zsilinsky street.
A permit for the protest, organized by Együtt in opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his close relationship with the visiting Russian president, was granted by police nearly a month ago. The event was scheduled on the corner of Kossuth square and Alkotmány street, adjacent to the Parliament building. Only later did TEK announce its plans to restrict access to a large area in the 5th district near the Parliament, effectively banning any protests there. Együtt objected to TEK’s plans, saying that their constitutionally protected rights to protest could not be overridden by the counter-terrorism force. Party chairman Viktor Szigetvári wrote a letter to TEK director János Hajdu, declaring that “[TEK] cannot legally do this, which is why we will definitely be there, even if they use water cannons to try and prevent us!”
TEK announced Tuesday that its actions do not constitute a ban on demonstrations, but rather “provide the opportunity to guarantee the security of protected persons.” However, TEK lacks the legal authority to prevent a sanctioned protest, and physically impeding protesters would amount to the infringement of their constitutional rights. The primary role of the police, according to Hungary’s Fundamental Law, is to protect the basic rights of citizens including the right to protest. This gives rise to the unusual legal paradox whereby the police are legally required to stand against TEK if the latter attempts to disrupt or prevent the protest in violation of the Fundamental Law.
Juhász (pictured) arrived at the corner of Bajcsy Zsilinszky street and Alkotmány street, about 500 meters from the proposed protest site at Kossuth square outside Parliament, just before 10 this morning. He was joined by Együtt MP Szabolcs Szabó, and board members Balázs Berkecz and Márton Pataki. During a short press conference in front of a cordon of some 50 police, Juhász said the moment had come “when we will find out whether the Hungarian state observes its own laws.”
“Here in my hand is the permit which the police approved for Együtt to demonstrate tonight at 6 o’clock at the corner of Alkotmány street and Kossuth square,” he said. “The state guarantees that its citizens may exercise their rights. The question is…will the police and TEK guarantee the practice of our constitutional rights?”
Juhász approached the police cordon and presented the protest permit to a ranking officer, but his request to enter the restricted area was denied, the officer saying that “measures have been implemented for the day to ensure the safety of people and facilities.” Juhász argued that his constitutional rights were being violated, and asked the officer whether he should call the police for assistance in exercising his rights. The officer recommended that Juhász file a complaint with the police department.
After police refused to allow Juhász onto Alkotmány street, an alternative location was ultimately negotiated for the protest, at the corner of Markó street and Bajcsy Zsilinszky street. Juhász made a short statement and called for participants to come to the new location.
“We got a permit in vain, the police approved it in vain, and TEK told us in vain that we can protest anywhere — we can’t protest anywhere,” Juhász said. “We are waiting for every single person…who would like to heckle Viktor Orbán. We already know that we are going to file a lawsuit in court, we’re going to make a complaint, and obviously we are going to seek damages from TEK. They take care of their business without observing the law, this is how the Orbán government works today. This person, who is the Prime Minister of Hungary, has been unable to speak to any media for 10 years, he doesn’t answer questions, he doesn’t hear the words of citizens. We would like to send a message back that he’s not a king, there aren’t subjects, there are citizens whose rights he must ensure, instead he acts like a little king, like a football hooligan. He protects his own ass with the transgression of the law and the use of his own private army. It’s intolerable. We would like a democracy, and Viktor Orbán is not a democrat. That’s why we heckle because it’s the only way we can express our opinion.”