Police strike OGYM protest camp for a second time

February 10, 2015

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“Such a system uses such executors to try and steal democracy in the dead of the night” – Gábor “Taureg” Szabó, Country Assembly Movement (OGYM) head

Police again demolished the encampment in the Kossuth square early this morning, this time in preparation for today’s visit to Budapest by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibasvili.

I am going to the Kossuth ter (square) on the last subway.  A group of foreigners appear to be enjoying a night out on the town.  Naturally, they weren’t heading to the square.  Only a few got off at the subway stop next to parliament.  Ascending the escalator one can feel the piercing cold, but one hopes that it’s just the usual draught one experiences as one leaves the subway.  Unfortunately, this time it’s not.  The wind is huge.  Some of the gusts exceed 80 km/hour.  At the exit I notice OGYM movement leader Gábor Szabó a few meters away.  We’ve arrived on the same subway and together we walk to his encampment at the center of the Kossuth square.

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Police cannot be seen anywhere but neither can demonstrators.  One woman stands in front of the tent, the others are taking cover inside from the wind and cold.  A small gas heater is working but it doesn’t give off too much heat.  There are six of them inside the tent and there really isn’t room for more.  Szabó sits down, drinks a cofee and tells the others what is going to happen.

He asks everybody not to obstruct the police, not to speak to them, and to let him do the talking.  The square is to be closed from 2 am.  He says the reason they had to arrive before then was to “exercise our rights” of assembly.  After 2 am, the police can prevent them from entering the square.

The next two hours pass quietly.  Inside the tent the subject of the fued between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and oligarch Lajos Simicska comes up.  Everybody has something to say on the matter.  The members of the movement are even happy that they are coming again to demolish the camp, saying “that only helps us.”   They won’t get tired, even if they have to rebuild the encampment a hundred times after the police demolish it.  In the meantime, some more movement members arrive.  Now there are more than 10 of us.  Szabó says that if the officials act according to the law, then the one group of police should remove the others in handcuffs, they will be violating so many laws.  They are limiting the right of assembly and are directly and deliberately abusing their power, which he says is good for obtaining a more serious court decision in the end.

At 1:45 am a covered IFA lorry arrives at the end of Akadémia street as well as some civil vehicles, and there starts to be movement around the square.  The movement’s members immediately start taking photographs even though there aren’t any policemen.  Shortly thereafter two standby policemen show up with a dossier in their hands.  They start.

In retrospect

On Sunday afternoon some policemen knocked on the tent “door,” and produced a document the protesters were supposed to take delivery of.  Szabó was not present at the time and the members understood that he was the only one authorized to undertake official matters, and for this reason they did not accept the document but asked the police to deliver it personally to the head of the movement.  The police agreed and then supposedly called Szabó, although according to him he received neither a telephone call nor an email.

On Monday morning Szabó called the Budapest Police and asked whether there was anything they wanted to tell him.  There was and he received an email.

Explanation

There are three police bodies that are independent of one another: the Counter-Terrorism Centre (TEK), the standby police (Készenléti Rendőrség) and the Budapest Police (BRFK).  Of the three only the BRFK is authorized to act in matters pertaining to the right of assembly in its capacity as first-level authority within the capital city.  The other two have no such jurisdiction.  In this respect there was no problem the night before German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit: TEK ordered the security measures and BRFK implemented them by striking and removing the camp.

In the absence of such an order from TEK, it was the standby police who issued the order.  Szabó says that in this case they should have evaluated the situation, met with the protesters and only then issued a decision before striking the camp.   No such evaluation or discussion took place but rather a single email was sent.

Back to the future

Tuesday, 2.15 am.  The standby police have brought a decision.  In a crossfire of photographs and telephone Szabó speaks to the police, now consisting of four uniformed police officers and two dressed as civilians.   Altogether there are 15 of us in a windstorm.  Szabó informs them that everything that happens is being recorded and they plan to initiate a court procedure.  There will be no physical resistance, however they will not cooperate.

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Action ordered by a Lieutenant-Colonel of the standby police

Szabó tells the police that the standby police have no right to act in matters relating to their assembly, and points out that the decision does not order the demolition of the tent, only to limiting the movement of individuals.

There is another paper from BRFK which Szabó previously received via email.  This order pertains to the demolition of the tent, except the chief of police’s signature is missing, and he, according to Szabó, is the only one authorized to issue such a decision.

Szabó concludes that the BRFK orders are invalid, and only the order brought by the standby police is valid.  Later, some of the movement members would later claim no such order was issued, but, in fact, it was.

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Szabó continues:  not only is it not necessary to demolish the tents in preparation for the Georgian Prime Minister’s visit on Tuesday, but the members of his movement can remain in the square because the law gives them three days to seek a legal remedy.  He says it is unlawful for the police to deny anyone the right of legal redress in a rule-of-law state.

The OGYM director then asks the police to return the tents the next morning and to erect them.  The police agree to return the tents at that time but say nothing about rebuilding them.

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The standby police, who are visibly upset, explain that they are just following orders.  There is no point in postponing the inevitable, so they start striking the camp.  In the meantime the square is closed off by a cordon of police.  The police agree to allow those to remain in the square who were already there.  As they finish striking the first and second tents, the people inside are forced to leave. They gather in the third tent and listen to Szabó.  He tells them it is not a tragedy and that no one should be embittered.  Obviously, it is tiring to rebuild twice a week an encampment that takes the police six hours to strike, but they will not give up.  He says nights like this only make them stronger.  He tells his followers “such a system uses such executors to try and steal democracy in the dead of the night.”