Update 1 August 2022
After the Hungarian Supreme Court rejected its appeal, the newspaper Népszava appeals to the European Court of Human Rights.
In rejecting the appeal of Népszava, the Hungarian Supreme Court (Kúria) has finally given an unprecedented verdict in the case relating to the publication of the Gábor Pápai’s cartoon “The Chronicle”, by the newspaper. Referring to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the court confirmed that the cartoon violated “the applicant’s right to protection of his human dignity in the context of his membership of a Christian religious community”.
A verdict that surprised many observers. The Court considered that the caricature in question could not claim absolute protection of the right to freedom of expression because of the various interpretations it entailed. Since it is not sufficiently intelligible to the public, it does not, in principle, contribute to public debate. As a result, the use of the religious symbol of the cross was deemed “self-serving” and “arbitrary” and the cartoon “offensive” and “suitable for violating the dignity of the Christian religious community, and through it the human dignity of the plaintiff belonging to the community”.
In an interview with Media1, the cartoonist announced that the newspaper would appeal to the ECHR, given the absurdity of the verdict: “(It is) fundamentally strange that a person belonging to a group should feel offended by a cartoon. Indeed, when legal personality was extended to communities so that it was not only the offended individuals who could take legal action, this was done to protect vulnerable groups, but now a member of a powerful group is asking to be protected against a cartoon that has defended the position of vulnerable groups”.
This decision by the Supreme Court is worrying for the future of press cartoons in the country and is reminiscent of the Prime Minister’s desire to “defend a Christian Europe” since 2010. In May 2022, another cartoon published by the same newspaper was the subject of controversy.
Cartooning for Peace will continue to support the cartoonist and his newspaper in their efforts.
Update of 06 July 2021
Népszava newspaper appeals to the Supreme Court (Kúria)
The newspaper Népszava announced on 2 July that it was seizing the country’s highest authority (Kúria) regarding the Budapest Metropolitan Court’s decision to condemn the publication of the cartoon “The Chronicle” by cartoonist Gábor Pápai at second instance.
The announcement comes on the same day than the publication of the 2021 edition of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) “Press Freedom Predators gallery” which includes for the first time a European head of government, the Hungarian President Viktor Orbán.
A year of ups and downs for Népszava and Gábor Pápai in Hungary
After rejecting the complaint filed by Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) member of the Parliament (MP) and chairman of the parliamentary Justice Committee, Imre Vejkey in the first instance in January 2021, the Budapest Metropolitan Court finally convicted Népszava for the publication of the cartoon “Chronicle” on 28 April 2020. This decision is a further blow to freedom of expression and sets a serious limit for the future of cartoon publication, according to the news portal Media 1, as attacks on cartoons and their defenders have increased in Hungary.
The court had initially rejected the MP’s complaint, arguing that the cartoon “… was not aimed against Christian religion, it did not ridicule the Christian community and did not prevent Christians from freely practicing their religion … it does not justify restricting the freedom of expression and the press”. A verdict denounced by the plaintiff as well as by András Veres, head of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who was also a signatory of a joint statement by the leaders of religious communities “protesting against the humiliation and ridicule of religious symbols, sacraments and holy places” published following the Court’s verdict.
In a verdict delivered at second instance on June 3,2021, the court finally found that the cartoon and its title infringed the plaintiff’s right to human dignity due to his membership in the Christian community in accordance with the article IX (5) of the Fundamental Law of Hungary and ordered the newspaper to pay HUF 400,000 (EUR 1,140) to Imre Vejkey, as well as to reimburse the court costs and to publish an apology on the front page. The apology, handwritten by Gábor Pápai, was symbolically and ironically published in place of the daily press cartoon on 25 June 2021. The newspaper, contacted by the Telex website, replied that it would like to make a public statement in the next few days.
The plaintiff had stated that he felt like a second-class citizen as a Christian when he saw Gábor Pápai’s cartoon. The latter explained in 2020 “…that since no worker in the governmental press (an oxymoron!) dared to stay away from lynching me, I owe you an explanation.” He then declared that “the drawing shows Cecília Müller, a public figure, and a crucifix (so it’s not the living Jesus, but a statue of him). The drawing has ONE speaker, the Chief Medical Officer, who, similarly to all [coronavirus-related] deaths to date, traces Jesus’ back to some underlying disease (…) So the drawing doesn’t say anything about Jesus (and he doesn’t say or do anything) that would be embarrassing, humiliating for Him or His followers that could be considered blasphemous. The drawing only criticizes Cecília Müller”. In April 2021, the cartoonist recalled in a long interview with the newspaper Szemlélek van keresnivalód that none of his accusers had asked what he meant by the cartoon.
This decision is part of an environment that is increasingly hostile to press cartoons and to the freedom of the press in general. On 5 November 2020, Janos Stummer (Jobbik), Chairman of the Parliament’s National Security Committee, announced that he wanted to propose a bill to ban cartoons that could incite religious hatred, in order to avoid becoming the target of terrorist attacks similar to the one that occurred in Vienna on 2 November 2020. To date, no action has been taken.
On 17 November 2020, the Hungarian Union of Journalists (MUOSZ) awarded Gábor Pápai the 2020 Kétfilléres Award for the cartoon “Chronicle”. The award lead to a wave of indignant reactions against the union, the cartoonist and his newspaper.
A year ago, Cartooning for Peace and its partners, Reporters Without Borders and the European Federation of Journalists, had already warned about the situation of Gábor Pápai. The Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists also reported on the threats against Pápai and his newspaper. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry responded and denied any infringement of press freedom. One year later, the pressure on the press, and more particularly on press cartoons, has not diminished. Cartooning for Peace calls on the Hungarian authorities to ensure that an environment favourable to the fundamental rights of free journalistic and artistic expression is maintained.
A new cartoon and new attacks on cartoonist Gábor Pápai
Cartooning for Peace condemns this new political attack against the cartoonist and his newspaper, the second in two months as Reporters Without Borders points out, and calls for an end to the pressure on the cartoonist.
After being threatened with legal proceedings in May 2020, Hungarian cartoonist Gábor Pápai and his newspaper are again being attacked by a representative of the Hungarian parliament.
Commenting on the cartoon on his Facebook page, Dr. Péter Hoppál, a Fidesz MP, threatened the newspaper Népszava of “disappearance” in a formulation referring to the daily Népszabadság, which was suddenly closed in 2016 following political pressure: “Népszabadság used to joke and disappeared, now here comes Népszava”. He added in his commentary that, having harmed Christianity, the cartoonist is now harming the Nation.Other articles in online media close to the government have condemned the cartoon.
The cartoon, “One hundred years of solitude (according to Marquez),” published on June 4, refers to the centenary of the Trianon Treaty, signed between Hungary and the First World War victors on June 4, 1920. The treaty dispossessed Hungary of two thirds of its surface area and the polulation living in those lands. The consequences of this treaty remain a trauma for part of the Hungarian population and fuel the revisionist and nationalist political ideology in the country, from the government of Miklós Horthy (1920-1945) to the present day.
The cartoon (in the gallery, below) “One hundred years of solitude (after Marquez)” shows 4 characters overhanging a hole surrounded by coloured shapes. The hole represents the territory of Hungary after the signing of the treaty while the coloured shapes represent the parts of the territory ceded to the victorious powers of the First World War. The character on the left says: “Don’t you want to come up?”, the one at the bottom of the hole says: “No, no, never!” (“No, no, never!” is a revisionist slogan from Horthy’s time).
Read the reply of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the threats against Gábor Pápai here (published on the platform for the protection and safety of journalists of the Council of Europe).
Following the publication of a cartoon in the opposition daily Népszava on 28 April, Hungarian cartoonist Gábor Pápai and his newspaper are facing legal action from the ruling Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) who consider the cartoon “blasphemous”.
Representatives of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) issued a statement condemning the publication of the cartoon of Gábor Pápai by the Népszava in its Tuesday 28 April edition. Deputy Imre Vejkey announced that his party intended to launch legal proceedings under the Fundamental Law and the Civil Code, targeting the newspaper Népszava. Tristan Azbej, State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians circulated a petition, while the cartoonist is also the target of insults and threats of legal proceedings by for example László Toroczkai, a member of the far-right party Mi Hazánk.
Entitled “Chronic”, Gábor Pápai’s caricature represents Cecília Müller (Chief Medical Officer at the NNK, National Centre for Public Health and member of the Government’s “Coronavirus Task Force”) at a press conference during which she faces Jesus crucified on his cross and pronounces dryly: “…His underlying condition caused dependence”. The sentence refers to previous statements by Cecília Müller who allegedly stated on several occasions that Covid-19 deceased were “predisposed” to die due to pre-existing pathologies. Cecília Müller has been at the centre of controversies since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, and she regularly speaks at press conferences to assess the evolution of the virus. She is accused by the opposition of having hidden information essential to limiting its spread.
The cartoonist contacted Cartooning for Peace and described the situation and the threats he has been facing since the publication of his cartoon. He also says that a radio station has called on its listeners to send in his address.
The press and media situation in Hungary have worsened since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán came to power. Hungary is ranked 89th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index 2020, down two places from 2019.
Cartooning for Peace strongly condemns this attack against freedom of expression and of the press as defended in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This lawsuit will only hinder the work of Hungarian journalists once again. Blasphemy convictions can under no circumstances become pretexts used by political parties to censor the press.
Cartooning for Peace is therefore calling for a dropout of any legal proceedings that would be launched against Gábor Pápai or the newspaper Népszava and will follow the case closely.
The European Federation of Journalists has also published an alert on the Council of Europe’s Platform to Enhance the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists: read here
Reporters without Borders published also a press release: read here
Download the press release: 2020-05-07 PR Gábor Pápai