The Hungarian parliament is seen Budapest on March 27, 2023. The parliament recently voted to decriminalize defamation under certain circumstances. (Reuters/Marton Monus)

CPJ welcomes Hungary vote to partially decriminalize defamation

Berlin, May 25, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday welcomed a recent vote by the Hungarian parliament to partially decriminalize defamation and called on authorities to fully reform laws threatening the press with criminal penalties.

“We welcome the decision by Hungary’s parliament to take a step in support of press freedom by partially decriminalizing defamation. Authorities should move to further align with international and EU standards by fully decriminalizing speech,” said Attila Mong, CPJ’s Europe representative. “Hungary should have scrapped criminal defamation from its books long ago. Laws that threaten journalists with prison sentences have no place in a democracy.”

On Tuesday, May 23, the parliament voted in favor of a draft law put forth by the ruling Fidesz party, which scraped criminal penalties for libel and defamation committed by members of the press under certain circumstances.

The law states that a defamatory statement will not be considered a criminal offense if it is made “within a scope of discussion of public affairs and is committed by means of a press product or media service,” unless the statement is “aimed at an obvious and seriously humiliating denial of the victim’s human dignity.”

Prison sentences of up to three years remain for defamation convictions outside of those circumstances. The draft will be sent within five days of passage to President Katalin Novák, who can sign it into law.

Recommendations from the European Union and Council of Europe encourage member states to remove prison sentences for defamation from their legal framework and favor the use of administrative or civil law.