Government official files libel suit against newspaper, reader over online comment

János Lázár, Secretary of State for the Hungarian Prime Minister’s office, has filed a civil libel suit against a newspaper and a criminal libel claim against a reader for online comments made in reaction to an article about the politician’s involvement in a fatal car accident last year. As first reported by Cink.hu, Hungarian officials have also interrogated six additional readers who submitted comments to the article on the newspaper’s website.

The case involves an online news portal of a regional newspaper, Delmagyar.hu, which reported on Lázár’s October 2012 car accident that left one motorist dead. Lázár was cleared of wrongdoing after police confirmed that the driver had caused the collision by swerving into Lázár’s lane. In response to Delmagyar.hu’s article, some readers left comments criticizing Lázár, including a statement by one reader who allegedly suggested that Lázár was responsible for the accident. The reader was also quoted as writing that the politician “drives like an animal” and that “Lázár is not interested in anybody and anything and I don’t care about Lazar either … I am sorry that it is not him who was left there.”

According to reports, Lázár is suing Lapcom Kft., the publisher of Delmagyarorszag.hu and Delmagyar.hu, for HUF 1 million (roughly EUR 3,400) and also filed a criminal libel suit with police against the individual responsible for the comments. According to Cink.hu, six additional readers who left comments have also been questioned by officials at the Investigation Office of Szeged and authorities said that more readers who commented could be interrogated.

Libel is covered under both the Hungarian civil and criminal codes. The statute on libel in the civil code (Section 78) prohibits statements or publications of “injurious untrue facts pertaining to another person or a true fact with an untrue implication that pertains to another person.” Libel in the criminal code (Section 180) prohibits publishing false information that tends to “harm a person’s reputation in connection with his professional, public office or public activity.” Penalties for civil libel cases can include fines. In criminal libel cases, violators can be punished with a fine, community service, or imprisonment for up to one year.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) is representing one of the individuals who has been charged in the criminal libel case.