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How is private security in Hungary threatening the right to protest?

The practice of private security aggressively policing public events is a new reality in Hungary – even though it was found to be unlawful in spring 2017.

This article is part of Right to Protest, a partnership project with human rights organisations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, examining the power of protest and its fundamental role in democratic society

In recent years, employees of private security agencies have been deployed by the Hungarian state during public events, alongside official law enforcement.

Not restricted by the regulations that bind the Hungarian police force, these private actors have total impunity, and often resort to verbal and physical abuse to stifle protests. 

2016 was a busy year for these private actors. In July, civilians gathered in Budapest to protest against plans to transform a green space into a museum complex. Private security forces linked to the governing party confronted the peaceful protesters with pepper spray, and left some with broken bones. Earlier in the year, on 23 February, muscle-bound men prevented István Nyakó, a politician from the main opposition party, from being the first to submit a referendum question on the government’s Sunday shopping ban. Nyakó’s application was annulled as a result (new electoral law states that only one referendum question can be examined at a time). On a public holiday in October, employees of a private security company denied many protesters access to a public gathering. They also confiscated whistles from civilians who wanted to use them to express their grievances during the official speeches.

On the initiative of the HCLU, on 22 March 2017, the ombudsman found the practice of private companies policing state events to be unlawful. However, the situation has not changed. 


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