Investigative journalist severely beaten in Hungarian capital

New York, June 25, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Friday’s brutal attack on Iren Karman, an investigative journalist who had published a book and made a documentary film on illegal oil sales in 1990s Hungary.

Unknown assailants assaulted Karman in the outskirts of the capital, Budapest, on Friday evening, pushed her into a car, tied and severely beat her, and left her on the banks of the Danube River, where a fisherman found her and summoned authorities, the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) reported.

Karman, who suffered severe injuries, was taken to a Budapest hospital where she underwent a surgery for internal bleeding on Saturday. Karman was in stable condition today but will remain hospitalized for several weeks, a medical official told MTI.

“It is outrageous that a journalist can be viciously beaten for investigating crime in a European Union member country,” said Joel Simon, CPJ executive director. “The Hungarian authorities must act swiftly to bring the attackers of Iren Karman to justice.”

Karman, 40, published a book last year on corrupt oil dealings in the 1990s. The book, titled Facing the Mafia, reported on the practice of “oil bleaching” or the removing of red dye from government-subsidized heating oil in order to sell it as diesel at a higher price, according to local and international press reports. The dye was used to identify the oil.

Karman’s investigations, collected both in her book and a soon-to-be-released documentary film titled “Oiled Relations,” implicate Hungarian politicians and police officials in collecting unlawful profits from the scheme, the MTI said. Hungarian media have reported that the illegal profits amount to more than US$500 million, The Associated Press said. The Hungarian parliament launched a probe into the matter in 2000, but no one was charged, MTI said. Documents in the case have been classified as secret and the files sealed for 85 years, AP reported.

Karman had recently said on her Internet blog that she had been receiving e-mail and telephone threats related to her investigations, the MTI reported. Last November someone had broken into her car and taken work-related documents and a video recording. Police at the time did not link the theft to Karman’s work, according to local and international press reports.