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Cases of concern

Gáspár Békés

  • Location / Hungary
  • Reason for persecution / Freedom of expression
  • Current Status / Under threat
  • Last Updated / 20 October 2021
  • Country of Origin / Hungary

Founding member of the Hungarian Atheist Association, Gáspár Békés was fired by the Budapest City Hall for his secular journalism and activism unrelated to his position of employment. He became the subject of an intensive government-funded hate campaign encompassing dozens of newspapers, radio and TV stations, receiving threats against his life, which the authorities have repeatedly refused to investigate.

 


In his own words


History of the case

2021

September

Békés is currently pursuing a number of civil and criminal defamation lawsuits against media outlets, Budapest City Hall and journalists. He is represented by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union in his lawsuit regarding wrongful termination, which will have its first court date on 30 September. Although he is currently employed, he no longer can disclose his workplace in fear of another hate campaign.

He is still a vocal supporter of secularism, humanism and children’s right to freedom of religion or belief, publishing articles and participating in debates & discussions about these topics.

July

Attorney’s Office reportedly rejects Békés’ appeal, claiming that the messages he has received are not threatening. Békés received messages about getting his tongue and teeth ripped out  among other things.

May

By May 2021, the Hungarian Atheist Association had raised almost 3,000 euros from Humanist organizations and private donors to fund Békés’ legal action. Békés launches multiple lawsuits against media outlets that he alleges defamed him.

February-March

Humanists International, European Humanist Federation, Humanist Society Scotland and the Norwegian Humanist Association protested against the decision, as well as a number of progressive Christian public figures and others, and the Hungarian Atheist Association. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union offered to represent Békés in his wrongful termination case against his former employer.

Despite filing multiple police reports about death threats he has received, police reject all Békés requests. Békés appeals to the Attorney’s Office.

February 

On 2 February, Békés is fired one day after his reprimand. To this point, there was no actual inquiry into his conduct, such as an ethics committee hearing. Békés’ superiors protest the decision, as he received excellent marks for his work.

Békés receives more than a dozen death treats.

Békés issues a statement saying that this action is a grave violation of the freedom of press, belief and expression, that will have long-lasting consequences, and will strike fear in the heart of secular, humanist and atheist people in Hungary. Here is Békés’s full statement, translated into English:

“The erosion of democracy in Hungary has come to the point that fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of the press, conscience and speech are severely restricted even by leading members of the self-proclaimed liberal-leftist opposition forces, not to mention the reigning government, which dubbed the country an illiberal Christian democracy. Arguing for a secular society, for children’s fundamental rights is now considered a thoughtcrime, even retrospectively, regardless of one’s occupation. The future is grim if the common political denominator is a theocratic political foundation that restricts progress and punishes Humanists, while politicians use organized religion to influence citizens.

In addition, arguing for children’s rights is vital if we are to raise generations who are critically thinking and are trusting of democratic institutions. Without this, a democratic society is unsustainable. I will continue the fight for all those who are marginalized by Hungary’s regime, whether they are progressive Christians, Atheists, Humanists or children in need of a secular environment to thrive.”

On 1 February, City Hall issues a statement announcing that Békés has been reprimanded and they distance themselves from his views. Békés receives a written warning, claiming he did not make it clear that his articles are not written on behalf of City Hall, and they demand that he issues a public apology.

January

On 31 January, Deputy prime minister Zsolt Semjén, leader of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (coalition partner), demands Békés’ termination from Budapest City Hall.

On 28 January, the far-right, Christian extremist portal, vasárnap.hu publishes the first article about Békés, claiming he offended religious sensibilities by sharing memes in closed Facebook groups dedicated to political satire. They also called him a ‘pacifist extremist’ for saying that conscripted soldiers of WWII are victims rather than heroes. A day later, they claimed that Békés would ban baptisms, and he is thus a blasphemer. The articles contained a number of falsehoods designed to smear Békés. The articles contained a number of falsehoods dedicated to smear Gáspár. The author of the article was promoted to editor in chief, then forced to resign, after it was discovered he was a leader in multiple neo-Nazi organizations. The portal itself openly promoted Kuk-Klux-Klan in a post for Christian Martyrs Day.


Background information

Gáspár Békés is a member of the Hungarian Atheist Association, an Associate of Humanists International. From December 2020 to 2 February 2021, Békés worked as a strategic environmental expert for the Office of Budapest Mayor, Gergely Karácsony.

He believes that a secular upbringing is essential to equipping the next generations with the necessary critical thinking skills which will meet the severe challenges of the future, such as climate change.


Country background

Hungary is often said to be pulled culturally, socially and politically between “East” and “West”. Hungary’s modern constitutional parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1989, following a long history of varying authoritarian regimes including 40 years of communist dictatorship. In the first 20 years, democratic institutions were set up and improved gradually with the country trying to catch up with European democracies, and Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. Since 2010, however, Hungary has undergone an authoritarian, nationalistic turn.

This country is found to be declining, with retrograde, anti-democratic reforms implemented under an authoritarian, nationalistic government since 2010, accused of borrowing some policies from the “far-right”. There is a trend toward a systematic desecularization of the state, giving religious privileges to certain churches, and increasing governmental control over a significant part of the media.


Humanists International’s concerns and calls

Humanists International believes that Békés is being targeted solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression and thought, as a result of his activism to spread humanist values and critical thinking, and calls for the Hungarian authorities to investigate all threats against Békés and ensure his safety.

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