18 November 2020
In its final judgment, the Metropolitan Court upheld the complaints against the police by the Labrisz Lesbian Association, Hungarian LGBT Association, Auróra Community Centre, the Marom Klub Kft. which operates Auróra, and eight individuals. The Budapest Police at first delayed stepping in last September, and then upon entering did not take any action against the homophobic provocateurs who eventually achieved their goal of preventing the LGBT community from holding its event. The complainants were represented by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
On 26 September 2019, well-known homophobic provocateur György Budaházy, and dozens of his black-clad cohorts appeared just before the start of a private event jointly organised by the Labrisz Lesbian Association and the Hungarian LGBT Association. The uninvited group came equipped with banners and sound systems with which they wasted no time in attacking the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) minority. Budaházy and his people pushed and obstructed the movement of those inside, chanted homophobic slogans and insulted participants. The explicit purpose of the riot was to prevent the private event from taking place.
The Auróra organisers requested police assistance. Although the police quickly arrived on the scene, they waited outside for twenty minutes and took no action to end the offensive, intimidating provocation. When they finally went inside, they did not order the rioters to leave, nor did they act against them. Yet the situation unquestionably raised at least the suspicion of a petty offense, even a criminal offense. Indeed, threatening members of a protected group is legally sufficient to justify police action. The actual commitment of physical violence is not necessary before police are required to step in.
Thanks to the police just hovering about and procrastinating for three hours, the event had to be cancelled, and the Auróra also had to close for a few hours that day. The homophobic provocateurs achieved their goal.
The organisers and the victims of the offense filed a complaint with the police with the help of Gábor Győző, a lawyer for the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. The VIII. District Police Department only found fault in the actions of its police officers when they failed to take action upon discovering that the hooligans in the main hall of the centre were there without Auróra’s permission. However, according to the police, the complainants did not suffer any harm here either, because a petty offense procedure was subsequently initiated against the Budaházys for trespassing.
The victims challenged the findings of the Budapest Police Department regarding their first instance complaint, a judgement that was subsequently upheld at the second instance. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee then took the case to the Budapest Metropolitan Court.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs on almost all important issues. The verdict states that the police should have taken immediate action. Waiting outside for 20 minutes for the order to engage the protestors was unreasonable. Of course, the police could not detect any offense or crime without actually entering the premises. In addition, they should have noted violations not only in the great hall, but also in the Auróra pub area and garden.
“The footage shows that the disruptors of the event were able to stay on the scene and continue to harass those present because the police did not take vigorous action to force them to leave. Instead, they allowed their unwanted agitation and aggression to continue. The police [should] have immediately put a stop to the situation, but instead the illegal situation lasted for hours.” – stated the Court in its finding of police liability.
From the perspective of the plaintiffs, the legal verdict on this specific attack on members of the LGBT community is also significant in a wider sense. “Police misinterpreted the law, seeing the need for intervention only in the case of physical personal harm or property damage. Violence against members of the community not only takes the form of physical abuse, but can also be carried out with defiant anti-community behaviour, for which threatening behaviour or verbal abuse are sufficient […]. Another essential factual element of the violence against a member of the community, in this form, is causing threat. It does not matter whether there is concrete fright or horror on the face and in the behaviour of the attacked. Complaints from concerned parties should be taken seriously, and the suitability for threat should be examined as objectively as possible and take all the circumstances into account.” – Budapest Metropolitan Court.
Furthermore, the verdict criticised the attackers’ defence that they were exercising their constitutional right to “peaceful right of assembly.” Police officers on the scene essentially accepted this interpretation of the situation at face value. However, a restaurant or community centre (such as the Auróra) is not, as a general rule, a “public space.” A gathering cannot be held there without the owner’s permission. On the other hand, such intimidating protests against LGBT people do not enjoy constitutional protection. The abusive exercise of the right of assembly is contrary to the principles of democratic society for tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination:
“Prejudicial and hostile action against members and subcultures of the LGBT movement specifically attacks the right to privacy and the human dignity that underpins the same level of protection as the right of assembly; that is, it falls [outside] the scope of protection of constitutional rights. It does not change the hostile nature of the message if a peaceful, friendly, loving mask disguises real feelings, judgements, contempt and vilification. A gathering for this purpose does not deserve protection under the European system of human rights. Its participants cannot claim that they could effectively achieve the purpose of their gathering only in that given place and by obstructing the exercise of the rights by others. If they hadn’t wanted to stop the event (which they specifically wanted to do), but their purpose was rather to protest against LGBT people, it could have been done in public and in compliance with the rules of the right to assembly without disturbing the private event.” – Budapest Metropolitan Court
The final verdict of the Metropolitan Court is important not only for the victims of the homophobic attack last September, but also for the members of the Hungarian LGBT community as a whole. Moreover, it also provides clear guidance to the Hungarian State and its bodies on what to do if gay, lesbian, and bisexual and transgender people are attacked.