Hungary: Driving protests are cracked down by police

On March 11, the Hungarian government declared a national “state of danger” to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, and since March 16, it suspended the right to assembly. A subsequent law has extended the government’s emergency powers indefinitely, and deferred elections during that time. 

The government response to the health crisis has been heavily criticized after 60% of hospital beds were ordered to be released in a week, effectively evicting current patients. In response to the decision, two independent MPs and an opposition party called for a driving demonstration around Clark Ádám Square on 20 April. Protesters drove their cars to the central roundabout after work hours and honked their horns. Despite the lack of initial response from police, after the organizers called for weekly driving protests, police began cracking down and giving out fines from 30,000 up to 750.000 HUF (about 2176 EUR) to protesters. The reasoning behind the fines ranged from petty offences such as breaking traffic rules to violation of lockdown rules. The organizers initiated a crowdfunding campaign to cover fines, but decided to cancel the sixth protest after the overwhelming numbers of fines.

The strict approach by law enforcement stands in contrast to their response to a protest organized by far-right groups that gathered several thousand people in Budapest on May 28. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), a member of INCLO, is representing two protesters challenging their fines and has created a guide for others who were fined for protesting.

Pic: Ákos Hadházy /Twitter