Hungary: ex-minister guilty of 1956 war crimes

AP News
Posted: May 13, 2014 1:41 PM

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's former communist-era interior minister Bela Biszku was sentenced on Tuesday to five years and six months in prison for war crimes related to reprisals against civilians after the anti-Soviet revolution of 1956.

Biszku, the first high-ranking communist official to be tried since Hungary's return to democracy in 1990, was also found guilty by a Budapest court of other charges, including denying crimes committed by the communist regime — which, like denying the Holocaust, is illegal in Hungary.

Biszku will be credited for the months spent under house arrest after he was first detained by authorities in Sept. 2012, judge Szabolcs Toth said.

The 92-year-old Biszku was a member of the Communist Party's ruling interim executive committee after the October 1956 uprising was defeated by Soviet forces. The committee created armed militias to carry out the repression, including firing indiscriminately into crowds at two rallies in December 1956 — one in Budapest and another in the town of Salgotarjan — killing 49 people.

Prosecutor Tamas Vegh, who had requested a life sentence for Biszku, said he would appeal the ruling, as will defense lawyer Gabor Magyar, seeking his client's acquittal.

Magyar, whose closing arguments lasted nearly three hours, said the timing and motivation of Biszku's trial were part of efforts by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to "reinterpret Hungarian historical events of the 20th century for political interests."

Both the prosecution and the judge rejected the allegation.

Due to Biszku's age and frail health, frequent recesses were held during the court sessions. On Tuesday, after the closing arguments from both sides, the judge asked Biszku whether he wanted to adjourn the session or continue with the reading of the verdict.

"Let's get it over with," replied Biszku, who did not testify at the trial but proclaimed his innocence in statements made earlier and read out in court.

While the defense questioned the prosecution's claim that Biszku was personally responsible for the 1956 slayings carried out by the militias and other crimes, Vegh argued that Biszku, as well as other top communist officials, may not have been present at the scene of the killings but were the authors of "the ideological order to shoot."

According to the prosecution, as interior minister between March 1957 and September 1961, Biszku also influenced trials in which more than 200 revolutionaries were sentenced to death, including former Prime Minister Imre Nagy and other leaders of the uprising who were later executed.