Hungarian Civic Group To Appeal To European Court

By Salon Staff

Published January 20, 2012 5:00PM (EST)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A civic group said Friday it would file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights because authorities are blocking it from holding a protest on the March 15 national holiday by reserving all likely locations in downtown Budapest for official use.

Peter Juhasz, a spokesman for One Million for the Freedom of Press in Hungary, said the group is turning to the Strasbourg, France-based court because authorities are limiting its right to assembly.

Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos said in a statement he does not want to block the March 15 protest rally near Elizabeth Bridge and is willing to discuss the issue with the One Million group.

"We have not received any official proposals from the mayor," Juhasz told the AP. "We only heard about it through state news wire MTI, which we don't consider a reliable source."

Hungary's opposition parties have also criticized a broader government plan to secure the locations — including Heroes' Square, the National Museum and the area near Parliament — for its exclusive use on all national holidays through 2014.

On Jan. 2, guests leaving a gala event at the State Opera to celebrate Hungary's new constitution, including Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Pal Schmitt, were forced to exit through a side door to avoid the jeering of tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside.

The One Million group formed to protest Hungary's media law, which, despite changes made last year after demands from the European Union, is seen by critics as limiting press freedoms and increasing government control over state-funded media.

The group's protest rally on March 15, 2011, was one of the biggest in Hungary since the 1990 end of the communist regime.

The two-thirds majority in Parliament of Orban's Fidesz party has allowed it to pass more than 350 laws over the past 18 months, including the constitution that was boycotted by the opposition parties.

While Fidesz says the legislative tsunami was needed to correct the mistakes of the past 20 years and allow a fresh start, opponents claim many of the laws will secure the party's influence over Hungarian public life for a long time, even if it loses the 2014 elections.

March 15 commemorates the 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs and is considered Hungary's greatest war of independence. Even though Hungary lost, it eventually secured a degree of civic rights from the Austrians and the two countries later formed the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Salon Staff

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