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Hungarian Jews Express Concern Over Veto of Hate Speech Law - 2003-12-24


The Hungarian Jewish community expressed concern Tuesday about a veto by President Ferenc Madl of legislation against hate speech. But the president has also asked the constitutional court to review the law, which was recently approved by parliament following a series of incidents against Hungary's Jewish and Roma communities. In a statement released by his office President Mádl said he refuses to sign the hate speech legislation because the bill could "restrict freedom to a greater extent than is constitutionally permissible."

The law, adopted earlier this month by parliament, stipulates that any person who publicly incites hatred "toward any nation, or national, ethnic, racial or religious group" could face three years in prison.

In addition, someone who "publicly insults the dignity of a person because of his or her national, racial, ethnic or religious affiliation" could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and sentenced to up to two years of imprisonment.

Though he has refused to sign the legislation, Mr. Madl took the step of asking the constitutional court to review the legislation to determine if it violates the free speech guarantees of the constitution. The court is expected to give its decision early next year.

The legislation came after a series of antisemitic incidents. Earlier this year a prominent lawyer representing racist skinheads in a trial asked the presiding judge whether she was Jewish. And in Budapest, a soccer team owned by a Jewish businessman heard rival fans chant, "The train is leaving for Auschwitz."

The foreign relations director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, Erno Lazarovits, told VOA News he was shocked about the president's decision.

"I am very very disappointed! I will tell you, very frankly. And he has first of all to understand who is considering himself a very big lawyer. You know he is considering himself a religious man and so on. He is always participating in all kinds of events, in different churches. He has to change his mind, because all the religions are against every hate."

But many politicians of the governing and opposition parties have voiced support for the president's decision. They say they are concerned that the legislation could undermine freedom of expression in a country where, for years under the communists, there was no free speech at all.