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Hungary: Politicians demand inquiry into alleged spying

Hungary: Politicians demand inquiry into alleged spying

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Opposition lawmakers in Hungary’s parliament have demanded an inquiry into findings by an international investigation that the country’s right-wing government used powerful malware to spy on critical journalists, politicians and business figures.The investigation by a global media consortium suggested that military-grade spyware from Israel-based NSO Group, an infamous hacker-for-hire outfit, was used in Hungary to infiltrate the digital devices of a range of targets — including at least 10 lawyers, one opposition politician and at least five journalists.The results of the investigation, headed by the French nonprofit journalism organization Forbidden Stories, were published Sunday, prompting three members of Hungary’s parliamentary national security committee to call for an emergency session to question government agencies on their potential involvement in the spying.Janos Stummer, the committee’s chairman and a lawmaker from the right-wing opposition party Jobbik, told The Associated Press that the surveillance described by the investigation is “not permissible in a state governed by the rule of law.”The committee will question Hungary’s national security and intelligence agencies on the allegations, he said, adding that a majority of seats on the committee are held by governing party lawmakers who could potentially block the inquiry by boycotting the session.“Our perspective is that staying silent would essentially be an acknowledgement that the government is indeed involved in this,” Stummer said.The investigation, drawing from a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, identified more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.The malware, Pegasus, infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously control the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, that lets hackers spy on reporters’ communications with sources.The Guardian, part of the 16-member media consortium that conducted the investigation, reported that forensic analysis revealed that the phones of two journalists with Hungarian investigative outlet Direkt36 had been repeatedly infected by the malware.NSO Group denied in an emailed response to the AP that it had ever maintained “a list of potential, past or existing targets.” In a separate statement, it called the Forbidden Stories report “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.”In response to questions from the AP, a spokesperson for the Hungarian government wrote in an email that Hungary “is a democratic state governed by the rule of law,” and that state bodies authorized to use covert instruments “are regularly monitored by governmental and nongovernmental institutions.””What would be the answer of the governments of the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany or France to the same questions? Will we ever find out who — or which secret services — have an interest in pillorying Hungary?” the spokesperson wrote.Hungary’s Ministry of Justice didn’t respond to requests for comment.Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told journalists after a meeting of regional foreign ministers in the northern city of Komarom on Monday that his government was “unaware of any such data collection,” and that the civilian intelligence agency he oversees “did not participate in any way” in the spying.Szijjarto, casting some doubt on whether the digital infiltration had occurred, said he had asked the director of the agency to examine whether the reports were the product of a “coordinated communication action” by unnamed secret services.The allegations of government spying come amid a rapid deterioration in media freedom and plurality in Hungary. Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his governing Fidesz party took power in 2010, the country has slipped from 23 to 92 in the World Press Freedom Index ranking.Earlier this month, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders placed Orban on its list of “predators,” the first time a Western European leader appeared in the lineup of heads of state or government who “crack down massively” on press freedom.Peter Ungar, a member of Hungary’s national security committee with opposition green party LMP, told the AP that the committee would seek to determine whether the individuals identified by the investigation had indeed been under surveillance.It would also inquire into who authorized the surveillance and on what grounds, and what was done with the collected data, he said.“If any part of this is true, even half of it, it’s one of the deepest national security scandals I have seen,” Ungar said.

Hungary: Writers, bookstores brace for ban on LGBT content

Hungary: Writers, bookstores brace for ban on LGBT content

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Some bookstores in Hungary placed notices at their entrances this week telling customers that they sell “non-traditional content.” The signs went up in response to a new law that prohibits “depicting or promoting” homosexuality and gender transitions in material accessible to children.While some writers, publishers and booksellers say the law curtails free thought and expression in Hungary, the country’s second-largest bookstore chain, Lira Konyv, posted the advisory notices to be safe. The new prohibition took effect last week, but the government has not issued official guidance on how or to whom it will be applied and enforced.“The word ‘depicts’ is so general that it could include anything. It could apply to Shakespeare’s sonnets or Sappho’s poems, because those depict homosexuality,” Krisztian Nyary, the creative director for Lira Konyv, said of the legislation passed by Hungary’s parliament last month.The law, which also prohibits LGBT content in school education programs, has many in Hungary’s literary community puzzled, if not on edge, unsure if they would face prosecution if minors end up with books that contain plots, characters or information discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.Hungary’s populist government insists that the law, part of a broader statute that also increases criminal penalties for pedophilia and creates a searchable database of sex offenders, is necessary to protect children.But critics, including high-ranking European Union officials, say the measure conflates LGBT people with pedophiles and is another example of Hungarian government policies and rhetoric that marginalize individuals who identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.Last week, a government office in the capital of Budapest announced it had fined Lira Konyv $830 for failing to clearly label a children’s book that depicts families headed by same-sex parents.The office said the bookstore broke consumer protection rules by failing to indicate that the book contained “content which deviates from the norm.”The fine, Nyary said, set a precedent for further potential sanctions against publishers and booksellers. With the threat of further penalties looming, all of Lira Konyv’s roughly 90 bookstores will now carry customer warnings that read, “This store sells books with non-traditional content.”Noemi Kiss, the author of several novellas that address contemporary social problems and feature some characters that are not straight or whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth, said she supports parts of the law that are intended to stop pedophilia and to protect children from pornographic content.But she called making literature off-limits based on whether it contains LGBT themes “absurd” and “a limitation of freedom of opinion and expression.”“Based on what will writers be categorized? If (an author) writes a gay story, will they be completely discredited, or shall we completely rewrite all of world literature?” Kiss said.The EU’s executive commission launched two legal actions against Hungary on Thursday over the new law and in response to earlier labeling requirements for children’s books that “display patterns of behavior that differ from traditional gender roles” — though authorities did not make clear what non-traditional gender roles entail.“Hungary restricts the freedom of expression of authors and book publishers, and discriminates on grounds of sexual orientation in an unjustified way,” the European Commission said in a statement, adding that the government had not provided “any justification as to why exposure of children to LGBTIQ content would be detrimental to their well-being.”Along with outlawing LGBT content for children, the law also prohibits depicting “sexuality for its own sake” to young audiences – a proscription that Nyary said could arguably apply to the majority of titles Lira Konyv sells.“If someone wanted to, they could report three-quarters of world literature based on this definition,” he said.Hungary’s government did not respond to a request for comment.Nyary says he is compiling an anthology of classic literature that contain LGBT themes. The collection of stories, poetry and plays will include writings by Homer, Shakespeare and Sappho, among others — and will come marked with an 18+ sticker to indicate only adults should read it.”We want to show what this law prohibits young people from accessing,” Nyary said.Mark Mezei, a novelist in Budapest who has published a book featuring a lesbian relationship, says that while he believes established authors will not practice self-censorship, the new law could “knock the pen out of the hands” of young wordsmiths and stunt a new generation of Hungarian writers.“If they find that they are facing huge resistance to their early work, it can certainly set them back in the creative process or even push them away from their calling,” he said.Mezei said he is likely to simply ignore the law, insisting that authors must “create and live autonomously.”“I think interfering in people’s private lives is one of the attributes of a governing power. But the really good works are born one way or another,” he said. “They’ll be on the shelves of libraries when the current powers are just a footnote in the pages of history books.”

Hungarian capital offers tests amid vaccine efficacy worries

Hungarian capital offers tests amid vaccine efficacy worries

Hungary’s capital city is offering free antibody testing to elderly people amid concerns that certain COVID-19 vaccines do not provide adequate protectionBy JUSTIN SPIKE Associated PressJuly 9, 2021, 12:57 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s capital city is offering free antibody testing to its elderly residents in a bid to ratchet up pressure on the government over concerns that certain vaccines don’t provide adequate protection against the coronavirus.The offer of 20,000 free tests, available for Budapest residents over 60, came after many fully vaccinated people reported that tests they had undergone at private laboratories indicated that they hadn’t developed antibodies to defend against COVID-19.Budapest Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss said those reports came primarily from people who received China’s Sinopharm vaccine, convincing city leaders that there was “a genuine problem.” He said the government should consider offering third doses to those with inadequate immune response.“If there is such a loss of confidence in certain vaccines, then the government needs to order a third dose and free up the capacities for giving them,” Kiss told The Associated Press, adding that the tests are available to anyone over 60 regardless of which vaccine they received.“We think the the more tests we perform, the more societal pressure there is for a third dose,” Kiss said. The testing drive will continue next week, and initial results will likely be released next week with the full results expected by the end of the month.Hungary was an early vaccination leader in the European Union, due largely to its procurement of jabs from eastern countries like Russia and China, on top of vaccines received through the EU.It was the first country in the 27-member bloc to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and is the only one to deploy China’s Sinopharm. More than 5.1 million doses of the jab have been distributed to Hungary, of which it has administered more than 2 million, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.While government officials insist there is no reason to offer a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, critics of the jab – including Budapest’s liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony – have cast doubt over its efficacy.In announcing the city’s antibody testing campaign in June, Karacsony referred specifically to the Chinese vaccine as the reason for the measure. He pointed to other countries like Bahrein and the United Arab Emirates, which have offered booster shots for some Sinopharm recipients amid efficacy concerns.Both Sinopharm and Sinovac, another Chinese company who has produced its own vaccine, said in April that they were looking at whether a booster shot could help better protect against COVID-19.Karacsony often spars with Hungary’s right-wing government and is considered a front-runner for replacing Prime Minister Viktor Orban in national elections next year.Sinopharm jab recipient Maria Szaniszlo, 78, said she backed a move to offer booster shots to anyone who needs them.“There is news that the Chinese vaccine isn’t reliable because it doesn’t offer protection to many people,” said Szaniszlo after showing up on Thursday for an antibody test in the capital. “I decided that I wanted to know too … They sent me the (immunity) card saying I’m protected, but I’ll find out tomorrow if I really am.”———Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.———Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccinehttps://apnews.com/hub/understanding-the-outbreak

Hungarian fencer Aida Mohamed to compete in her 7th Olympics

Hungarian fencer Aida Mohamed to compete in her 7th Olympics

Hungarian fencer Aida Mohamed is about to join a very small group of women by competing in her seventh OlympicsBy JUSTIN SPIKE Associated PressJune 29, 2021, 9:01 AM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian fencer Aida Mohamed is about to join a very small group of women by competing in her seventh Olympics.The 45-year-old Mohamed, born in Budapest to a Syrian father and Hungarian mother, has qualified to compete in foil at the Tokyo Olympics. Her appearance will make her only the 14th woman to appear at the games so many times.Despite making her first Olympic appearance at the 1996 Atlanta Games, she said the experience is anything but routine.“I’m still nervous and I still want to put (forward) the best performance,” Mohamed told The Associated Press from her training gym in Budapest.Mohamed, who is left handed, competes in foil, using a lighter and more flexible weapon than the rigid épée. She is currently ranked 29th in the world in her category by the World Fencing Federation.She has earned one silver medal and six bronze in individual foil at world championships, and a team gold at the 2007 European championships. But she has never managed to reach the podium at the Olympics.While Mohamed will travel with Hungary’s women’s foil team to Tokyo as an alternate, she may not compete in individual competition. Still, it will give her the record for most Olympic appearances by any Hungarian athlete, man or woman.“I’m training harder than 10 or 20 years ago, probably because fencing has changed and it’s more athletic,” Mohamed said. “Plus, I have to catch up with the younger ones, so I have to put in more effort than at the Olympics before.”Mohamed attributes much of her success to her trainer of 35 years, Antal Solti, whom she describes as a father figure and says was as much a mentor to her as he was a coach.“This is a little bit more than just a coach and student relationship. I can say that it’s like a father-daughter relationship,” she said of Solti, who monitored her grades when she was still in school early in her fencing career.Raised only by her mother, Mohamed said Solti gave her and other young fencers the strength to tackle challenges both in sports and in life.“He really paid attention, not only in the sport but in our personal lives. I think that made him very unique,” she said. “When we set up a goal, we always worked hard for it and he was always the one that helped me to achieve it.”The 72-year-old Solti said his student showed great potential as a fencer even way back when they first began working together in 1985.“It was already apparent at an early age that she could be successful, and there were immediate results. You could see it right away,” he said.Hearing that Mohamed thinks of him as a father, he said it “touched me a lot.”“I will tell you honestly,” Solti said. “There is no better thing in the world.”Hungary has the third most Olympic fencing medals of any country, behind Italy and France, and has earned more medals in fencing than in any other sport it competes in — something Mohamed attributes to a fiery national spirit.“I think we just have the spirit of fighting and the emotion to do it … I think that’s why always we succeeded,” she said.Hungary’s first team match in Tokyo will be against Italy, one of the best squads in the world. With the support of her husband, Canadian Olympic fencer Laurie Shong, and their two young daughters, Mohamed said she will do everything she can to bring home her first Olympic medal.“I’m hoping that I can help the team to victory. That would be the best,” she said. “The big dream would be to gain a medal … I would just like to show my best performance ever.”———More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Hungary's foreign minister defends law limiting LGBT rights

Hungary's foreign minister defends law limiting LGBT rights

Hungary’s foreign minister claims that a disinformation campaign is being used to rally international criticism of a recent law passed in Hungary that is widely seen as targeting LGBT peopleBy JUSTIN SPIKE Associated PressJune 22, 2021, 10:29 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s foreign minister alleged Tuesday that a disinformation campaign was being used to rally international criticism of a recent law passed in Hungary that has been widely seen as targeting LGBT people.Speaking at a press conference following a General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reacted to a question on reported plans by Benelux countries to release a joint statement condemning the new law.“A global fake news campaign is taking place concerning the law on the protection of children,” Szijjarto said, adding that “99% of those making criticisms have not read the entire law.”The law is ostensibly designed to crack down on pedophilia, but critics argue amendments to it make a dangerous link between homosexuality and the abuse of minors. The law prohibits sharing any content portraying homosexuality or sex reassignment to children under 18 in school sex education programs, films and advertisements.Human rights groups have denounced the measure, saying it could be used to stigmatize and harass residents because of their sexual orientation or gender identities, and deprive young people of essential sex education information.Thousands have protested in Hungary’s capital of Budapest against the measures.Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter asked permission from UEFA, Europe’s governing body for soccer, for Germany’s stadium to be lit up with rainbow colors to reject homophobia and intolerance when the national team plays Hungary on Wednesday.UEFA declined the request, saying Tuesday it understands the intention but was rejecting the move because of its political context — “a message aiming at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament.”At the press conference, Szijjarto repeated earlier Hungarian government claims that the legislation is designed only to protect children from pedophiles and to ensure that only parents have the right and responsibility to education their children on matters of sexual orientation.“The law does not discriminate against any social group, and it doesn’t discriminate against the gay community either,” he said.

Hungary's immunity cards allow packed stands, raise concerns

Hungary's immunity cards allow packed stands, raise concerns

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Tens of thousands of soccer fans packed the Puskas Arena in Budapest last week to attend Euro 2020 matches. It was the first full-house international soccer event in Europe in more than a year — made possible largely by Hungary’s adoption of government-issued immunity cards.The only one of the tournament’s 10 host countries to allow full crowds in stadiums, Hungary has conducted one of Europe’s most successful COVID-19 vaccination drives. The immunity cards attest that their bearers have received at least one vaccine dose or recovered from COVID-19, and allow them access to sports events as well as to services and venues such as hotels, spas, concerts, theaters and indoor restaurant dining.Yet while the cards have allowed many to regain many aspects of pre-pandemic life, others worry that their use could impact fundamental rights.“There was a lot of anxiety in society on potential discrimination,” said David Vig, director of rights group Amnesty International Hungary. “(The government) said, ‘There will be a distinction between people: Those who have the vaccination card, and those who do not.'”Hungary’s procurement of vaccines from Russia and China, as well as through the European Union, quickly gave it the second highest vaccination rate in the 27-member bloc after Malta. More than 66% of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.But in recent weeks, as most of those willing to be vaccinated have already got a jab, the pace of vaccination has slowed dramatically. Government figures show that some 2 million people still do not have an immunity card, which restricts them from many opportunities available to cardholders.These continued restrictions for the unvaccinated underlie the government’s strategy of providing incentives for inoculation, Vig said.“The vaccination card and the strategy behind it was good from the government’s perspective. That is, it kind of pushed people towards vaccination,” he said.But in a statement in April, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union argued that the cards discriminate against those who “due to their state of health, cannot be vaccinated temporarily or permanently,” such as women in certain stages of pregnancy, or those with chronic conditions that make vaccination inadvisable.Those people, and others who could not complete the mandatory online vaccine registration for lack of internet access, face discrimination, the group argued.While more than 60,000 fans were permitted into the Puskas Arena last week for Euro 2020 matches, Hungary’s government has continued to limit other public events such as protests for those without immunity cards, citing pandemic concerns.In early June, several thousand people rallied in Budapest against plans by right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to host a Chinese university in the capital. Protest organizers, in an effort to skirt rules capping outdoor events at 500 people for non-cardholders, split the march into several smaller groups.It is instances like these, Vig said, that demonstrate that the government has used the pandemic and immunity cards to curtail fundamental rights despite dramatically improving pandemic indicators in recent weeks.“More than 50-55% of society was already vaccinated, (but) demonstrations were still impossible. … That is a very clear violation of international human rights standards,” Vig said, adding, however, that such limits on protests were later repealed.“The government has some power to restrict these rights for a certain amount of time if it is necessary and if the restrictions are proportionate with … the aim that they want to achieve, but not for a prolonged or an unlimited time,” he said.Akos Sipos, 45, a Budapest web analyst, said he is uncomfortable showing his personal identification alongside his immunity card when entering public venues, granting access to his personal information to those checking the card.“I don’t feel that it’s a good thing if I have to show my identity card to a security guard if I want to eat a pizza somewhere,” Sipos told The Associated Press.“They have no business knowing when I was born” or other personal data, he said.Still, he accepted that such measures are required to keep the pandemic under control.“I understood this whole card thing as a necessary evil,” he said. “Those who have been vaccinated definitely have to be tracked somehow.”———Bela Szandelszky contributed to this report.———Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak