CivilMedia is concerned about the increasingly common practice of certain public figures to launch criminal proceedings in response to any criticism directed at themselves. Public figures who exercise state power should show self-restraint in dealing with criticism addressed to them; otherwise, the rise in criminal proceedings will have a restrictive effect on the freedom of expression.
According to the information at our disposal, criminal charges have been pressed against readers of the online newspaper nepszava.hu because of comments that the reader posted with regards to Papcsák Ferenc (MP of the current ruling party, and mayor of aBudapestdistrict) in connection with the article “Thousands protest against Papcsák” published on the site in April. The police, citing the Code of Criminal Procedure, have ordered the press outlet to release personal data connected to the relevant username, including the email addresses and the IP addresses used to register on the site. According to press reports, two comments were identifiable, as follows:
“In my own name and in the name of my three grandchildren, I protest against any new taxes, duties, and other tax gouging! It shows a sick and depraved mentality that the municipal government wants to – on top of the communal taxes – charge a so-called turnover tax on the nursery school fees, rent, pension, taxes etc. to restore the state’s financial balance. People with high revenues should be made to contribute! Bring back multi-bracket taxation!!! Make Mr. Papcsák and his gang of shameless tax-gouging cronies pay up instead!!!”
“This was long overdue – someone had to stop this insane Fidesz-pandering (Fidesz: political party currently in power) spineless creature that passes for a mayor.”
However, the content of these two comments does not go beyond the legal boundaries of freedom of expression.
According to the latest Freedom House report on the freedom of the press, the press freedom situation inHungary has dropped into the “partly free” category, while its internet freedom status is still rated as “free”. However, criminal action against comments posted online threatens to restrict the freedom of online expression.
CivilMedia has offered its legal representation services (on a pro bono basis) to the parties charged.
Click here to view our short film on this issue (currently only available in Hungarian).