The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) has been watching with increasing concern how journalists and citizens active in public life have risked ever more when criticizing politicians. The recent campaign launched by the organization PolitiKuss (approximately: shut up by politicians) draws attention to this problem.
A right and a duty
Debate represents a functional element in a democracy, requiring public persons to endure more criticism than everyday citizens; this guarantees the accountability of those in power. It is the right and, indeed, the duty of thousands of Hungarian journalists and tens of thousands of citizens active in public life to formulate criticism - but doing so is rendered more and more impossible and risky by the current regulations. In such cases, civil and criminal proceedings can be started in a parallel manner.
What is more, public persons are entitled to special protection during criminal proceedings. Thus while an ordinary person hires and pays an attorney to represent the allegation, the state takes on this responsibility on behalf of MPs or mayors: the police will conduct the investigation, the prosecutor will make this accusation, and the complainant does not have to pay for all this at all. Indicted people will be fingerprinted and photographed, as if they had committed some serious crime. HCLU provides legal representation in several lawsuits concerning politicians attempting to silence their critics by legal means.
HCLU has elaborated a regulatory concept according to which no criminal proceedings can be started for defamation or slander, while persons exercising public power cannot institute civil proceedings concerning criticism related to their official activity.
Legal instruments of pressure may lead to the further mitigation of criticism; threatening journalists and critical citizens with high compensations for damage and legal fees, or even with criminal proceedings, makes it increasingly difficult to control the power and disclose corruption. HCLU refuses the limitation of the freedom of expression, maintaining that public actors should indeed endure heavy criticism!