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Hungary’s president under scrutiny after issuing pardon in sexual abuse case


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  • President Katalin Novák of Hungary is facing mounting pressure to resign after it was disclosed that she granted a presidential pardon to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case.
  • Novák issued the pardon to the former deputy director of a state-run children’s home who had been sentenced to prison for covering up sexual abuse by the institution’s director.
  • Opposition parties in Hungary argue that Novák is unfit for office following this decision and have called for her resignation.

Pressure is mounting on Hungary’s head of state to resign after it was revealed that she issued a presidential pardon to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case.

Hungary’s opposition parties say that President Katalin Novák, Hungary’s one-time minister for families and a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is no longer fit to hold office after she pardoned the former deputy director of a state-run children’s home last year.

The man was sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2018 for helping to cover up the sexual abuse committed by the institution’s director, who himself was sentenced to eight years for his abuse of at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.

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Novák, who issued the pardon along with around two dozen others on the occasion of Pope Francis’ April 2023 visit to Hungary, has denied that she acted improperly and rejected calls for a formal explanation of her decision.

Katalin Novak speaks

Hungarian President Katalin Novák delivers her speech during Pope Francis’ meeting with the authorities, civil society, and the diplomatic corps in the former Carmelite Monastery in Budapest, Hungary, on April 28, 2023. Pressure is mounting on Novák to resign after it was revealed that she issued a presidential pardon to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, Pool, File)

“Under my presidency, there has not been and will not be pardons for pedophiles, as it was in this case,” she said during a news conference on Tuesday.

Novák’s office did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment.

All of Hungary’s opposition parties have called for Novák’s resignation. Democratic Coalition, the largest of the parties, has initiated an ethics proceeding against her in parliament.

On Thursday, a Democratic Coalition lawmaker delivered a letter to Catholic Church representatives in Hungary to pass to Pope Francis, saying that Novák had “served sin” by granting the pardon on the occasion of the pontiff’s visit.

The lawmaker, Olga Kálmán, said the pardon had expunged the criminal record of the children’s home’s former deputy director and allowed him to work among children again.

“This pardon means that from now on, he has no criminal record and has not been barred from practicing his vocation. From the moment of his pardon, he can go back to working in an orphanage,” Kálmán told the AP.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, one of the sex abuse survivors, Mert Pop, wrote in a comment that Novák’s decision “deprives victims of due justice,” and that “the obscurity surrounding the pardoned offender provokes deep concern among those who have suffered, and in society at large.”

“Confronted with the gravity of the crimes committed, the decision to pardon is unexpected and inexplicable, causing deep pain and disappointment to those affected, further complicating their lives,” Pop wrote. He said he expects an explanation from Novák on behalf of the victims.

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As controversy rose on Thursday, Orbán said in a video on Facebook that he had proposed an amendment to Hungary’s constitution that would prevent those convicted of crimes against children from receiving presidential pardons.

“There is no mercy for pedophile offenders, that is my personal belief,” Orbán said. “It’s time to settle this issue.”

Hungary’s former justice minister, Judit Varga, also has come under fire, since her endorsement was required for the pardon to take legal effect. Varga is expected to lead the list of European Parliament candidates from Hungary’s governing Fidesz party when elections are held this summer.

Kálmán, the opposition lawmaker, said she thinks Novák and Varga “should not represent me or Hungarians, either in Hungary or abroad.”

A protest against Novák’s decision has been called for Friday in front of the presidential palace in Budapest.

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