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Protesters demand Hungarian president’s resignation over a pardon in a child sexual abuse case

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Protesters called for Hungary’s conservative president to resign on Friday after it emerged she had pardoned a person convicted of covering up a child sex abuse case.

ANNOUNCEMENT

Calls for conservative Hungarian President Katalin Novák’s resignation grew Friday amid outrage over a pardon given to a person convicted of covering up a child sex abuse case, sparking an unprecedented political scandal for the country’s long-running nationalist government. date.

Novák is the first female president in Hungarian history. She sparked outrage after it was revealed that she had granted a presidential pardon in April 2023 to a man convicted of concealing a series of child sex abuses at a state orphanage.

The man was sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2018 for pressuring victims to recant their allegations of sexual abuse by the institute’s director, who had been sentenced to eight years for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.

News last week that Novák had pardoned the man sparked widespread anger and calls for his resignation. On Friday, thousands of protesters gathered at the Sándor Palace in Budapest, the presidential headquarters, demanding her resignation.

Before the rally, Hungarian European Parliament member Anna Donáth said she believes the scandal is something Novák “cannot come back from.”

The pardon sparked sadness, Donáth said, “and this really natural anger, which brings people to the streets, which leads people to talk openly about it. This is why the government is very worried at the moment.”

Novák is a close ally of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and former vice president of the ruling Fidesz party. She served as Hungary’s family minister until her nomination to the presidency in 2022, and has been outspoken in supporting traditional family values ​​and child protection.

In addition to calling for her ouster, opposition parties have launched ethics proceedings against her in parliament. Orbán, in power since 2010, unveiled a proposed constitutional amendment on Thursday that would ban pardons for those convicted of crimes against children – a rebuke to Novák’s decision.

Mert Pop, one of the sexual abuse survivors, publicly expressed dismay at the pardon and called on Novák to provide an explanation.

“Katalin Novák, the former Minister for Family Affairs, is one of the human faces of Fidesz who one could really believe was a good-natured mother, a good family mother, a calm and moderate president,” Pop said. “And then it turned out that wasn’t the case.”

At a news conference on Tuesday, Novák refused requests to provide a formal explanation for his decision and did not respond to a question about whether he had considered resigning.

“The justification for presidential pardon decisions is not public, and it is therefore natural that every pardon raises questions, and these questions will often go unanswered,” he said. “It is also true that all graces are divisive by their nature.”

András Gál, the lawyer for some of the sexual abuse survivors, rejected Novák’s comment, saying the pardon was “a slap in the face” to the victims.

“Katalin Novák said that all pardons are divisive, but I think pedophilia is different,” she told reporters on Thursday. “If pardoning a pedophile case is divisive, then there are only a couple of people on one side: the pedophiles – and everyone else is on the other side, because pedophilia is not divisive.”

Novák traveled to Qatar on Thursday for an official visit, according to the presidential office. Three of his advisors resigned in recent days following the scandal.

Pop, the abuse survivor, said he believes the plight of the victims has been lost in the discussion of Novák’s decision, and that the opportunity to meet with the president to receive an explanation of the pardon would be “a good remedy” to appease their tensions. concerns.

“It would definitely help a lot to understand or process this fact, if the gesture was made to at least explain his decision to us, personally as victims,” he said. “This silence is what exacerbates and deepens these pains and the trauma itself.”

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