Hungary has pardoned the leader of a far-right group convicted of attacking rival politicians in the late 2000s, on the “occasion” of the pope’s visit to Budapest on Friday.
“The week of the papal visit provides a special opportunity to exercise the right of pardon,” President Katalin Novak, a close ally of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, wrote in a statement on Thursday evening.
Among those who benefited, she said, “it was decided to suspend the prison sentence” of members of the now-defunct far-right group “Hunnia.”
Its leader, György Budahazy, 53, was given a 13-year prison sentence in 2016 for “terrorist acts”, along with 16 other activists.
They had all been convicted of carrying out a series of attacks between 2007 and 2009, with firearms and Molotov cocktails, against the homes of various socialist and liberal MPs, who at the time were in power.
According to the prosecution, the group’s aim was to intimidate MPs in order to influence their vote. At the end of the trial, the prosecutor called the series of attacks “unique” in Hungarian history in recent decades.
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György Budahazy, who at the time denounced “a farce trial”, left the prison in Vac (north) on horseback – a symbol in the far right of the country’s rebellious past – waving his fist in victory.
Opposition politician and former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany on Friday blasted the “unhinged and dishonest” government on his Facebook page.
For Sandor Csintalan, a former socialist official who was a victim of the Hunnia group, “invoking the Holy Father for such an immoral and scandalous decision is sacrilege.”