Reporters Without Borders

Journalist given jail sentence for press offence for the first time since fall of communism

Published on Friday 23 January 2004. Updated on Thursday 22 January 2004.
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A journalist has been sentenced to a jail term for a press offence for the first time since the fall of communism in 1990.

Andras Bencsik, editor-in-chief of the weekly Magyar Demokrata was sentenced on 21 January to ten months in prison for libelling Liberal Democrat deputy Imre Mecs.

Another journalist from the same newspaper, Laszlo Attila Bertok, was sentenced to eight months in prison, but suspended. Both journalists are planning to appeal against their sentences within the next few days.

"We do not dispute the fact that journalists can be punished for writing defamatory articles. Nevertheless under international standards, prison terms should never be imposed for press offences, even if the sentences are suspended", Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to the Justice Minister Peter Barandy.

"We strongly hope that the prison sentences will be reduced to fines on appeal. We also ask you to propose urgent reform of your defamation legislation, when your country becomes a member of the European Union on 1 May 2004, so that the courts can no longer hand down such sentences," the international press freedom organisation added

In articles published on 15 November 2001, the two Magyar Demokrata journalists claimed that Mecs, who played an active role in the 1956 revolution against the communist regime, had denounced to the authorities four revolutionaries who were sentenced to death and hanged on the basis of his evidence. Mecs was sentenced to death himself in 1957 for plotting against the state. He was amnestied in 1963.

The court said that the journalists had seriously damaged the politician’s reputation.

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