Ap­peals court or­ders re­trial for Hun­gary war crimes sus­pect


A Hungarian ap­peals court on Mon­day or­dered a re­trial of a com­mu­nist-era of­fi­cial con­victed of war crimes re­lated to reprisals against civil­ians af­ter the 1956 anti-Soviet revo­lu­tion.

Bela Biszku, the only high-rank­ing com­mu­nist leader con­victed since Hun­gary’s 1990 re­turn to democ­racy, was sen­tenced to five years and six months in pri­son in May 2014. Pros­e­cu­tors ap­pealed the sen­tence, ask­ing for life in pri­son for the 93-year-old, while Biszku’s de­fense sought a dis­missal of the charges.

Biszku was in the Com­mu­nist Party’s rul­ing in­terim ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee af­ter the 1956 up­ris­ing was de­feated by Soviet forces. The com­mit­tee cre­ated armed mili­tias to carry out the re­pres­sion, in­clud­ing fir­ing in­dis­crim­i­nately into crowds at protests — and Biszku was con­victed for his re­spon­si­bil­ity in nearly 50 deaths.

The Bu­dapest Ap­peals Court, how­ever, de­clared the rul­ing of the lower court void and called for a re­trial with a new set of judges.

The ap­peals court said it agreed with the de­fense lawyer’s po­si­tion, “that the first-in­stance rul­ing is not suit­able for re­vi­sion” be­cause of the sever­ity of its flaws.

It found er­rors in the lower court’s logic in reach­ing its con­clu­sions, crit­i­cized the opin­ions of a his­to­rian re­lied on by pros­e­cu­tors and said more his­to­ri­ans and ex­perts were needed to clear up key events where Biszku’s role was un­cer­tain.

His­to­ri­ans have long con­sid­ered Biszku to have been one of the main ar­chi­tects of the re­pres­sion which fol­lowed the 1956 up­ris­ing — when at least 225 peo­ple were ex­e­cuted and over 10,000 im­pris­oned for their real or al­leged role in the re­volt — but the court said that the nearly 60 years since the events in ques­tion did not in it­self jus­tify a “spe­cial judg­ment” of the case.

“There are es­sen­tial and sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ences be­tween es­tab­lish­ing his­tor­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity and crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity,” the court said in a state­ment.


For­mer Hungarian com­mu­nist-era in­te­rior min­is­ter Bela Biszku, hat­less, sits in the court­room in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary, Mon­day, June 1.

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