Berlin, November 7, 2018--Hungarian authorities should immediately drop criminal charges against prominent investigative reporter András Dezső and allow him to work without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
State prosecutors in Budapest charged Dezső, who works for Hungary's biggest independent news website, Index.hu--one of the few remaining media outlets critical of the government--with misuse of sensitive personal information on October 18, the reporter announced on his Facebook page on October 31. Dezső told CPJ that he learned about the charges the same day from a report published on the pro-government news site 888.hu, which cited sources at the prosecutor's office. On November 1, after a request by his lawyer to the prosecutor's office, he received the official notification and shared it with CPJ.
"Hungarian authorities must immediately drop criminal charges filed against András Dezső in retaliation for his investigative reporting," said Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator, in New York. "Investigative reporting based on publicly available records is a service, not a crime."
The charges against Dezső stem from a March 12, 2018, article in Index.hu in which the reporter wrote about the background of a Sweden-based Hungarian woman whose interview was used by the government in the run-up to April 8 elections to support its anti-Muslim, anti-migration campaign rhetoric. In a dramatic interview that the woman gave to Hungarian state television on March 9, she spoke about how she had to move from Sweden back to Hungary due to safety concerns and a fear of Muslim refugees and migrants in Sweden. Dezső's reporting for Index.hu found that the woman had been convicted in Sweden of seven counts of defamation, violating of the public trust, and harassment. Another independent news site, 24.hu, reported that the woman moved back to Hungary in 2016. Dezső told CPJ that his reporting was based on publicly available records in Sweden.
The prosecution alleges that the journalist published sensitive personal information about the woman's criminal records without her prior written consent; her complaint initiated the procedure. The state prosecution has proposed that the court convict the reporter without a hearing, based only on the documents put forward by the prosecution, according to the official notification that Dezső received and the independent news site hvg.hu.
If found guilty, Dezső faces up to three years in jail, according to a CPJ review of the Hungarian penal code. The prosecutor's office confirmed in an email to CPJ that there was a criminal procedure against the author of the article in question, but did not disclose specific names and would not comment further on why the journalist is charged when the reporting used public records in Sweden.
Dezső is one of Hungary's most prominent investigative journalists; he was shortlisted for the European Press Prize in 2015 in the investigative journalism category and twice won the prestigious Soma investigative journalism prize in Hungary, in 2015 and 2016. In Hungary, critical and independent media has faced tough challenges and a shrinking space under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, CPJ has reported.