Letters   |   Hungary

Hungary: Newspaper bombed after winning libel suit

January 4, 2000

His Excellency Viktor Orban
Prime Minister
Republic of Hungary
Via Fax: 011-36-1-268-3050

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ ) is greatly alarmed by a December 27 grenade attack near the offices of the independent weekly Elet es Irodalom in Budapest. The newspaper's editors suspect the attack came in reprisal for its recent court victory in a libel suit that Your Excellency and Fidesz, the main governing party, filed against it in October.

At around 6:45 p.m., a Yugoslav-made hand grenade was hurled into a courtyard outside the offices of Elet es Irodalom, shattering office and car windows. No one was injured. A surveillance camera recording of the incident showed an unidentified man climbing out of a car, tossing the grenade into the courtyard, and driving away.

In Your Excellency's lawsuit, you demanded that Elet es Irodalom retract its published allegations that your party had engaged in corrupt business practices. Eva Vajda, who authored the August 20 article, focused on charges that your family had benefited financially from the privatization of a mining company, and that other Fidesz members had enriched themselves from sales of public buildings in the early 1990s.

On October 8, a lower court ordered the weekly to print a retraction. An appellate court dismissed the verdict on December 14. Meanwhile, the Fidesz party has filed a new case on your behalf against Elet es Irodalom for a November 5 article on the same mining scandal.

Police also recently concluded a criminal investigation against Ms. Vajda and her colleagues for allegedly breaching the country's banking secrecy laws in their coverage of the so-called VIP list scandal at Postabank last year. Between April and June 1999, the journalists published a series of articles detailing how the now state-controlled Postabank had provided preferential loans and accounts to a long list of "VIPs," including a number of public officials and celebrities. The practice was blamed for the bank's near collapse in 1998, prompting a government bailout. Police questioned the journalists, but failed to find sufficient evidence to press charges.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is outraged by the grenade attack against Elet es Irodalom, the latest and most alarming in a pattern of attacks against the weekly in retaliation for its work. We remind you of your government's international commitments to safeguard the rights of journalists to practice their profession freely and safely. We urge you to investigate this attack, and to review all of your country's laws that inhibit the free practice of journalism.

Thank you for your attention. We await your comments.


Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director



Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Hungary

Send a letter to:

His Excellency Viktor Orban
Prime Minister
Republic of Hungary
Via Fax: 011-36-1-268-3050

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