Protesters demand Hungary’s president quits over sex abuse case pardon

By Thomson Reuters Feb 9, 2024 | 10:45 AM

By Boldizsar Gyori

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – At least 1,000 people protested in Hungary’s capital on Friday demanding the resignation of President Katalin Novak over her decision to pardon a man convicted as an accomplice for helping cover up a sex abuse case in a children’s home.

Novak decided to pardon some two dozen people in April 2023, ahead of a visit by Pope Francis, among them the deputy director of a children’s home who helped the former director of the home hide his crimes.

The director was sentenced to 8 years in prison for sexually abusing several under-age boys in 2004-2016. The deputy director had been sentenced to more than 3 years.

Hungarian opposition parties have demanded the resignation of Novak, an ally and former family minister of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Novak said on Tuesday she would never pardon a paedophile, including in this case. She said the reason behind her decision was not public and all pardons were divisive by their nature.

Her office has not replied to emailed Reuters questions.

Trying to contain the political fallout from the scandal, Orban, whose Fidesz party is beginning the campaign for European Parliament elections in June, submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament late on Thursday depriving the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children.

“The pardoning decision of the president of the republic has prompted a debate. This debate must be closed in a way that reassures all Hungarians,” the text of the bill says.

Novak has said she will willingly sign the amendment into law.

But protesters who held up banners saying “Resign!” and marched to Novak’s presidential office in Budapest on Friday said the only acceptable solution would be if the president stepped down.

Novak was not in her office, but away on an official visit to Doha.

“Resignation would be a very correct thing to do,” said Bela Sedan, 53, who works as a carpenter.

“Someone who makes a mistake like this should go away and not represent me as president of the Hungarian Republic.”

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori; Editing by Alison Williams)