The Romani community continued to face discrimination in all aspects of life and Romani individuals were victims of allegedly racially motivated attacks. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people continued to experience intolerance from violent groups.
There was a rise in support for the Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), a radical right-wing organization, which is primarily anti-Roma and has demonstrated against what they describe as “Roma criminality”. In December, the Municipal Court of Budapest ruled that this group should be disbanded as it “means to create a climate of fear, while its activities – the marching of its members in Roma-populated settlements and the speeches of its leaders – constitute a breach of the rights of other citizens”. The organization’s leader announced they would appeal against the decision.
"A Romani couple were killed in Pecs on 18 November by a grenade thrown at their house..."
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
In June, the Constitutional Court rejected amendments to the civil code and penal code passed by parliament in November 2007 and February 2008 respectively. The amendments represented the fourth attempt by parliament since 1992 to change the law on hate speech. They would have criminalized incitement targeted against a minority group and allowed a maximum two-year prison sentence for anyone using inflammatory expressions about specific ethnic groups or offending their dignity. The Court considered these amendments to be unconstitutional as they would curtail freedom of expression.
Discrimination – Roma
The Roma continued to face discrimination, including in lack of access to education, health services, housing and employment. In July the NGO Decade Watch, reporting on Hungary’s progress in the Decade of Roma Inclusion, stated that “measures to eliminate segregated education of Roma have been met with resistance by some local authorities, and funding available for such measures has been underused or misused due to the lack of interest in promoting the integrated education of Roma by educational institutions at a local level.” Although the Supreme Court on 19 November ruled that a municipality and two schools were practising segregated education, Decade Watch found that de facto segregated Roma-only schools continued to exist in 170 localities.
A 50-member investigation team was set up by the police to focus on assaults against Roma after the growing number of cases of violent assaults against them reported during the year. Such assaults included attacks with petrol bombs, hand grenades and other weapons.
- A Romani couple were killed in Pecs on 18 November by a grenade thrown at their house, which also injured two of their three children. According to press reports, initial remarks by local police denied any racial motivation behind the killings. However, the Chief of National Police, speaking to the media on 20 November, stated that in all cases when the victims of assaults were Roma, the possibility of ethnic motivation could not and must not be dismissed until there was clear-cut evidence to prove otherwise.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
On 11 June, the Budapest Chief of Police decided to ban the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride parade scheduled for the beginning of July, alleging security concerns after violent incidents with counter-demonstrators in 2007. Amid international and national pressure he reversed his decision on 13 June.
On 5 July, around 450 people took part in the parade during which explosive devices were thrown at police by hundreds of violent far-right demonstrators chanting threatening slogans. The following day, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány condemned violence against LGBT rights marchers and called for decisive action against extremism and intolerance.
On 8 July, four counter-demonstrators received minor fines and three were acquitted by Budapest’s Central District Court, after they were taken into custody for throwing eggs and disobeying police orders during the parade. All seven were tried for misconduct, which can be either a minor or a major offence. If violent misconduct threatens others or causes mass disagreement, or is perpetrated in groups it qualifies as a major offence. In this case it was considered a minor offence.
On 17 July, the Budapest Central District Court gave an 18-month suspended prison sentence to a man who attacked police by throwing stones at least three times during the parade.
Police and security forces
The individual law enforcement officers responsible for ill-treatment and excessive use of force during policing of demonstrations in Budapest in 2006 were still not identified. The National Prosecutor’s Office reported that following 200 complaints filed against the police, 174 were dismissed, 24 were still pending, and in only two cases had the court delivered sentences.
- In February, the Metropolitan Court of Budapest acquitted one police officer in the case of alleged ill-treatment of Ángel Mendoza during his detention in a Budapest police station after the September 2006 demonstrations. However, in June, the Court of Appeals repealed the judgement and ordered the retrial of the acquitted officer. The case of Ángel Mendoza, who was represented by the NGO Hungarian Helsinki Committee, was still pending at the end of the year.
- Two police officers were found guilty of ill-treating Imre Török by the Metropolitan Court of Budapest in March. The police officers received suspended sentences of 14 and 16 months respectively. The Court of Appeals in November reduced the sentence on the first officer to nine months, but upheld that passed on the second, who had a previous conviction for ill-treatment during official procedure. Imre Török was represented by the NGO Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
Violence against women and girls
In April, the NGO initiative, Hungary Rape and Sexual Violence Working Group, became an official sub-committee of the Council on Social Equality between Men and Women of Hungary within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour.
- There were no major positive developments in the highly publicized case of 22-year-old Zsanett E., who was allegedly raped by two police officers in May 2007. In December 2007, the Budapest Prosecutor’s Office dropped the investigation stating that no crime had been committed. In February, Zsanett E.’s lawyer filed a substitute civil action. The first court hearing took place on 17 November, and proceedings were still pending at the end of the year.