Arrests in Hungary for criticizing government on social networks

By Marcelo Nagy

Budapest, May 17 (efe-epa).- Arrested for criticizing the government on the social networks. That was the headline this past week in Hungary, a member of the European Union, where two men were arrested and questioned for hours by the police for expressing their discontent with the government’s management of the coronavirus crisis.

The arrests, which critics of the ultranationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban call an attempt to intimidate, came as a result of a recent law setting forth jail terms for spreading “alarmist” information about the virus.

“You are a cruel despot. But don’t forget that, up to now, all dictators have fallen,” was one of the comments posted on Facebook by Andras Kusinszki, 64.

Meanwhile, Janos Csoka-Szucs, an activist with the opposition Momentum party, noted in one of his own Facebook posts the holding of a demonstration against the government and added that the hospital in his city had freed up more than 1,100 beds to be able to treat Covid-19 patients by simply releasing the patients occupying them, presumably even if they had not fully recovered from the health problems for which they were being treated.

Both men were arrested one day apart and the arrests themselves were videotaped by Hungarian police, who then posted the videos on the Internet.

The messages published by the pair of critics had been seen and shared by a few dozen people.

The police acted in the two cases on the basis that the men had violated the law prohibiting the spreading of alarmist information.

However, in both cases the Hungarian Attorney General’s Office determined that no crime had been committed, and so the police promised to proceed in accord with what the judiciary said about the two situations and released the suspects.

According to official police figures, the authorities are investigating 87 cases of potential alarmist activity.

The political opposition and non-governmental organizations say that the arrests were only made to intimidate the public and thus minimize criticism of the government and ultranationalist prime minister Orban.

The Hungarian Parliament, where Orban’s Fidesz party holds a two-thirds majority, in March granted special powers to the government to manage the coronavirus crisis without specifying how long those special powers would remain valid.

The package of legal measures includes an amendment that sets forth prison terms of up to five years for spreading “false” or “alarmist” information that is deemed to make the fight against the coronavirus more difficult.

The European commissioner for Values and Transparency, Vera Jourova, last Thursday promised that the European Commission will monitor whether Budapest is progressively eliminating restrictions it imposed to try and limit the spread of the pandemic within the small Eastern European nation.

Last Tuesday, police reported the arrest of Kusinszki near Szerencs, in eastern Hungary, for having “published on a social network false assertions” about the coronavirus.

After he was released, Kusinszki said on an opposition Web site that the police officers came to arrest him at dawn and that during his interrogation the officers demanded over and over again that he tell them who he was referring to as a “dictator.”

In another part of his message, Kusinszki criticized the lifting of quarantine restrictions that commenced on May 4, just as the coronavirus was at its peak in Hungary, a situation that he said seemed to be premeditated to cause more people to become infected.

“We live in a small city. The police know that I’m not a criminal,” said Kusinszki, emphasizing that neither the police themselves nor the Attorney General’s Office knew what to do about his case.

Kusinszki told the opposition Web site partizan.hu that he was not afraid of sharing his ideas and added that “you have to talk and reveal problems, as long as there’s freedom of the press you have to use it.”

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