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The European Court of Justice in Strasbourg

Hungarian Parliament loses case at European Court

D&T
September 16, 2014

The European Court of Justice has ruled in favor of several opposition members of Hungarian Parliament and stated that their rights to freedom of expression were violated when Speaker László Kövér fined them for displaying anti government banners.

During a parliament session in April 2013, opposition MPs presented a billboard with the words ‘FIDESZ [the governing party]. You steal, you cheat and you lie.’ During the final vote in May 2013 on a law that basically monopolized tobacco retail trade in Hungary, MPs held a billboard stating ‘Here operates the national tobacco mafia.’

In another case, opposition MPs protested against a controversial legislative proposal on the transfer of agricultural lands basically to people siding with the governing party, during the final vote on the bill in June 2013, by placing a small wheelbarrow filled with soil on a table in front of the Prime Minister and by displaying a banner with a slogan critical of the bill.

The applicants were fined between EUR 170 and 600 for ‘gravely disturbing Parliament’s work’. The fines were proposed by the Speaker of Parliament of Parliament and adopted by the plenary without a debate.

The applicants complained that the decisions to fine them violated their rights to freedom of expression, stating in particular that the measure was meant to discourage open debate and stressing that they did not endanger the functioning of Parliament.

The Court underlined that, in a democratic society, freedom of expression was especially important for elected representatives of the people – Parliament being an essential forum for political debate. In that context, the Court did not accept the Hungarian government's argument that political expression in Parliament deserved lesser protection because of the immunity granted to its members.

Speaker László Kövér issued a statement saying that he acknowledged the Court’s decision but claimed that Parliament had no action to take as a new regulation, taking effect this week, offers members of parliament proper legal remedy for such cases.

D&T

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