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Media Watchdog Urges End To Hungarian Police Probe Into Journalists' 'Illicit Data Collection'

The police summons concerns drone footage of a business owned by Lorinc Meszaros (right), a billionaire friend of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left).
The police summons concerns drone footage of a business owned by Lorinc Meszaros (right), a billionaire friend of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left).

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has demanded that Hungarian police stop harassing two journalists who were summoned for questioning after they published stories that used drone footage showing armored vehicles parked outside a business of a friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

CPJ said in a news release on October 28, that Gabriella Horn, a reporter for the investigative news outlet Atlatszo, and Balazs Gulyas, a reporter for the independent news website Magyar Hang, were summoned for questioning over their stories.

The drone footage showed two military-grade armored vehicles parked on the estates of a company owned by businessman Lorinc Meszaros in Bicske, a town 30 kilometers from Budapest.

Horn and Gulyas said police summoned them as witnesses in a criminal probe into suspected illicit data collection, a criminal offense that carries a maximum prison sentence of three years.

Horn said police asked why she wrote her article, why she thought it was newsworthy, who her sources were, who made the drone footage, and who authorized its publication, CPJ said.

Horn told the authorities she “wanted to verify information swirling in the press about armored vehicles stationing on the estate and find out how dangerous the vehicles are as she thought this fact might be of interest for the public.”

She refused to answer questions about her sources for her story, which was published on May 15.

Gulyas, whose story was published on May 8, told CPJ that police told him a company owned by Meszaros filed a criminal complaint, triggering the investigation.

He said when he was questioned, he refused to answer anything concerning his sources. He also refused to answer questions about who recorded the footage and who authorized the article. He also protested the interrogation as judicial harassment and an attack on press freedom.

“Hungarian police must stop harassing Gabriella Horn and Balazs Gulyas and drop any criminal investigation related to their reporting, which used drone footage to reveal information of public interest,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.

“It is every journalist’s job to hold powerful business leaders with close ties to governments accountable. Trying to intimidate journalists is unacceptable, and will only reinforce suspicions that authorities have something to hide,” Said said.

Balazs Toth, a lawyer for Atlatszo, said the police investigation was unfounded as the journalists did not use a drone recording to invade privacy but to verify information of public interest.

In an e-mailed response to questions from CPJ, Lieutenant Colonel Tamas Henyecz of the business crime unit of the Hungarian Police in Fejer County said his investigation proceeded lawfully.

Meszaros declined to comment to Atlatszo. The news outlet reported that the Hungarian Army used vehicles similar to those seen in the drone footage until the end of 1980s, and they are now mostly used by collectors or for hunting.

Meszaros is a hobby hunter and owns a hunting company, according to Atlatszo and an interview he gave to a Hungarian hunting blog in 2018.

In an e-mail to Magyar Hang on May 5, before the publication of the article, the communication department of the Meszaros Group, a holding company belonging to Lorinc Meszaros, said its use of assets was legal and had been reported to authorities.

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