Freedom of expression in Hungary in the aftermath of the coronavirus act – Interview with Budapest-based journalist Justin Spike

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Seven weeks ago, the Hungarian parliament passed the controversial coronavirus act which extended the state of emergency in Hungary with no specific time limit and granted the government extraordinary powers to rule by decree until the end of the state of emergency. The so-called coronavirus act put media and civil society in Hungary in a difficult position and eroded freedom of expression further. Budapest-based journalist Justin Spike was Özge Somlyai-Çakır’s guest to discuss the effects of the coronavirus law on the freedom of expression in Hungary so far. 

Justin Spike is a freelance journalist based in Budapest with ten years of experience in reporting about Hungarian politics both domestic and international levels. He is the author of Insight Hungary established under the roof of 444.hu news portal to provide their readers with information about political and social events in Hungary, in English. Spike says that as soon as the draft for the so-called coronavirus act was brought to the parliament by the Hungarian government, journalists in Hungary felt that this act was going to make their job more and more difficult.

Hungary’s coronavirus act states that “spreading falsehood or claim […] or spreading a distorted truth in relation to the emergency in a way that is suitable for alarming or agitating a large group of people” are considered as criminal offenses. Spreading claims or distorted facts that “interfere with the successful protection of the public” which could also be punished by up to five years in prison. “Five years is too long to be imprisoned for stating facts,” says Justin Spike. He already wrote about two people that were taken under police custody last week for expressing their opinions about the government’s policies during the pandemic. These people were not found guilty and they were released, but “The actual story here is that now in Hungary you can get arrested, if not charged, for sharing your opinion on social media,” he adds. 

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