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Hungary rocked by protest over child sex abuse pardon case

February 17, 2024

The resignation of two top allies of Prime Minister Victor Orban over a decision to pardon a man convicted of covering up a child sexual abuse case has done little to quell public anger.

Thounsands took to the streets in Budapest, calling for stronger child protection reforms
Thounsands took to the streets in Budapest, calling for stronger child protection reformsImage: Denes Erdos/AP Photo/picture alliance

Tens of thousands of people in Hungary protested in the capital, Budapest on Friday amid a continuing fallout from a scandal that has rocked Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government.

President Katalin Novak and former Justice Minister Judit Varga both resigned last weekend for supporting a decision to grant a pardon to a man implicated in a child sex abuse scandal in April 2023. The deputy director of a state-run orphanage who had been imprisoned for covering up a string of child sexual abuses was pardoned last year, but it only became known early this month. 

Both ministers were close allies of Orban, whose party has governed the country with a constitutional majority for nearly 14 years.

Thousands of people at Heroes' Square in Budapest, Friday, February 16
The conservative head of state resigned amid mounting criticism and pressureImage: Denes Erdos/AP Photo/picture alliance

YouTubers and online creators lead protests

Demonstrators, led by some of the most popular online personalities, filled the capital's sprawling Heroes' Square and called for genuine reforms to Hungary's child protection system.

“I don’t know exactly what we’re going to achieve at the end of the day,” said Zsolt Osvath, a popular online content creator who helped organize the demonstration. “But it’s certain that we won’t stay silent any longer, and that we had to step out from the comfort zone of our computer screens.”

Lots of young people protested, as seen here, against the scandal that has rocked Hungary
Online creators urged called for a "healthy society"Image: Denes Erdos/AP Photo/picture alliance

The organizers included nearly a dozen popular YouTubers and other content creators who wrote they were "distraught" over the revelations and protesting for a "healthy society."

Political parties were asked to stay away from Friday's demonstration. 

Orban chief of staff says government looking to "the future"

Orban's Chief of Staff Gergely Gulyas told a press briefing earlier on Friday Orban did not have knowledge of the pardon until last week.

"The prime minister himself learned about the affair in the press," he said.

He said the president and the former justice minister took responsibility for the issue and the government considered the matter closed.

Gulyas added that it was important "to look into the future" and the government would look to tighten child protection regulations. 

Orban was scheduled to deliver his annual state of the nation address on Saturday. 

rm/lo (Reuters, AP, AFP)