- 11 Feb 2024 10:01 AM
- Hungary Matters
Katalin Novák, Hungary's first female president, faced backlash when it was disclosed that she granted a presidential pardon in April 2023 to a man convicted of covering up a series of child sexual abuses in a state-run children's home.
This individual had previously received a more than three-year prison sentence in 2018 for pressuring victims to retract allegations of sexual abuse against the institution's director, who was sentenced to eight years for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.
The revelation last week prompted widespread anger, with calls for Novák's resignation. Thousands of protesters gathered at Budapest's Sándor Palace, the presidential headquarters, demanding her step down. European Parliament lawmaker Anna Donáth stated that she believed the scandal was something Novák "cannot come back from."
Novák, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and a former vice president of the Fidesz party, has been an advocate for traditional family values and child protection.
Opposition parties have initiated an ethics proceeding against her in parliament, and Prime Minister Orbán proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit pardons for those convicted of crimes against children.
Sex abuse survivor Mert Pop expressed dismay over the pardon and called on Novák to provide an explanation. Novák, however, refused to offer a formal explanation during a news conference on Tuesday, emphasizing that justifications for presidential pardons are not public. The lawyer for some of the sexual abuse survivors rejected Novák's stance, describing the pardon as "a slap in the face" for the victims.
Novák, currently on an official visit to Qatar, has faced resignations from three of her advisers in recent days. Despite the ongoing controversy, she has not provided an explanation for her decision, leaving survivors like Pop feeling that the plight of the victims is being overshadowed by the political fallout.
Kocsis: 'No Clemency for Paedophiles'
“There shall be no clemency for paedophiles,” Máté Kocsis, the group leader of ruling Fidesz, told public Kossuth Rádió on Friday morning, adding that Fidesz MPs support Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s constitutional amendment proposal to that effect.
Kocsis said a debate had developed in Hungary in recent days that made it clear that from now on, it is not necessary to consider whether such an offender can be pardoned or not, but that the possibility of granting a pardon to such a person must be excluded from the start.
Commenting on President Katalin Novák’s decision to pardon the deputy director of a children’s home who had been convicted for coercing residents to withdraw allegations of paedophilia against the director, Kocsis said “nobody contests the legality of the president’s decision.”
Kocsis said it would be good to know what the president’s clemency decision was based on, but MPs should not deal with what the basis for the decision was but ensure that this will not happen again. The constitutional amendment could be adopted in the second half of March, Kocsis said.
“Also, I believe that since there was a referendum in Hungary in 2022, which aligned 3.6 million people in the area of child protection … and in this referendum people made it clear that lawmakers must do everything to protect children,” Kocsis said.
He added that the constitutional amendment proposal submitted by the prime minister on Thursday must be accepted because it complements the child protection system, so from now on all offenders must know that if they do what they do at the expense of children, no presidential pardon would be an available option for them.
Kocsis said the governing parties had adopted in 2021 Europe’s strictest child protection and anti-paedophile law, which the left-wing parties did not support. They did not back proposals for a searchable register of paedophiles or stricter rules in the penal code, he added.
He said the left regularly attacks Hungary abroad over this, adding that the president of the European Commission said Brussels was withholding EU funds due to Hungary in large part because of Hungary’s child protection act.
“This is why I think what the left wing has done in recent days … is hypocritical, since they have always opposed everything about child protection rules and the anti-paedophile law,” he said.
Gulyás: Perpetrators of Crimes Against Minors Not to Be Granted Pardon
Perpetrators of crimes committed against minors shall not be granted a pardon of any kind, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said on Thursday evening, in connection with the prime minister’s announcement on a constitutional amendment proposal he had submitted earlier in the day.
Viktor Orbán announced that he had submitted the amendment proposal on behalf of the government, adding that it was his personal belief that there must be “no mercy for paedophiles”.
Speaking to HírTV, Gulyás said that the opposition in Hungary had done everything it could to prevent the implementation of a family support system.
“In a concrete case, because of a dispute that arose in this regard, it was considered absolutely necessary for the government to make it clear and enshrine it in the constitution that granting a pardon in any crime committed deliberately against minors shall not be an option allowed to the president of the republic”.
Gulyás said this measure was hoped to help make clear the government’s penal policy goals.
Hungarian Opinion: Opposition Demands President Novák’s Resignation over a Controversial Amnesty
A left-wing pundit thinks it was the fault of the ’system’ that President pardoned the helper of a paedophile offender last year. A pro-government columnist believes that the opposition side is more lenient towards paedophilia than the government.
Last week it turned out that the 25 convicted citizens pardoned by President Novák on the occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to Hungary included a man convicted for his attempts to whitewash his boss, the director of an orphanage who had sexually abused children under his care for several years.
Opposition parties immediately called on President Novák to resign and initiated a process to strip her of her title if she doesn’t. Fidesz floor leader Máté Kocsis retorted that the opposition should rather express regret for its refusal to vote for the child protection act (against paedophilia and sexual propaganda)
In Népszava, Zoltán Batka concedes that President Novák has no intention of promoting paedophilia, and nor is former Minister of Justice Judit Varga who countersigned the amnesty. He believes that decision to pardon the man was taken somewhere in the background by unknown influential people and the apparatus of the Justice Ministry ad the Presidential Office is simply not accustomed to question such decisions.
The Minister and the President would even have signed a cake recipe, he writes. He lays the blame at the doorstep of what he defines as a monolithic regime and suggests that the case proves George Soros right as an advocate of an ‘open society’.
On the Mandiner website, István Joó finds it curious that leftist news outlets which were rather relaxed in the past about paedophile offenders as well as the parties connected to them should accuse President Novák of promoting paedophilia.
The man she pardoned, he argues, was not a paedophile himself and had already served eighteen months in jail, after which he was kept under house arrest, before being pardoned. As examples of opposition leniency towards paedophiles, Joó quotes a statement by a veteran liberal politician who once called sexual relations between teachers and pupils ‘a private matter’ and an article by the 444 web magazine which stated that only a minority of sexual offences against minors were committed by paedophiles.
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