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Hungary charges former Communist leader with war crimes

A Budapest prosecutor on Wednesday charged Bela Biszku, former leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSZMP) [party website, in Hungarian], with war crimes. The charges stem from when Biszku was a member of the party's Temporary Executive Committee after the failed revolution in 1956 [BBC backgrounder]. The committee established its own police force, which is accused of routinely firing on civilians at the direction of the committee. Biszku is accused of ordering these shootings both in Budapest and in Salgotarjan during the revolution attempt. Immediately following the revolution, Biszku served as interior minister and a member of the political committee from 1957 until 1961. The maximum sentence for the war crimes charges is life imprisonment. Biszku continues to deny these allegations. He has been under house arrest since September 2012 in connection with illegally possessing weapons and ammunition.

These charges come at a time of increased controversy in Hungary over new proposed laws and constitutional amendments [JURIST op-ed]. Earlier this month, Hungary passed [JURIST report] a law effectively criminalizing homelessness. Last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over changes to the Hungarian constitution, highlighting a lack of resolve over issues surrounding weakened human rights protections in the country. In June UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Hungarian government to revoke the constitutional amendments after the release of a report by the Venice Commission criticizing [JURIST reports] the government's lack of transparency and disregard for human rights.

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