Rally in Hungary to Support Reporter Claiming Govt Assault

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Several hundred people rallied Saturday outside an office of Hungary’s governing Fidesz party after a journalist said she was assaulted at a party meeting by a government official.

Julia Halasz, a reporter with the 444.hu news site, said a meeting organizer took away her cellphone and dragged her down several flights of steps and out of a school by the arm while she was covering a Fidesz public forum.

Economy Minister Mihaly Varga and Defense Minister Istvan Simicsko spoke at Thursday’s forum promoting the government’s “Let’s Stop Brussels” campaign, which claims the European Union wants Hungary to raise taxes and energy prices and take in large numbers of migrants.

Halasz said Laszlo Szabo, who is also in charge of the government office arranging celebrations and remembrances, accused her of making a video during the forum, which she denied, and erased several photographs she took with her mobile phone.

Halasz reported the alleged assault to police, while Fidesz said it would file its own report, claiming libel.

Fidesz denied her claims, saying she failed to follow press rules at the meeting, disrupted the forum and argued loudly with audience members.

“It’s very frightening that they attack me just because I work for a medium which the government can’t influence,” Halasz told The Associated Press. “I have witnesses who can corroborate that none of their accusations are true.”

Participants at Saturday’s rally in Budapest shouted slogans in support of press freedom.

Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s return to power in 2010, his allies have greatly increased their ownership of newspapers, broadcasters and online media, turning the outlets into unquestioning supporters of the government. Hungary’s state media is also under strict political control.

The government has “clearly turned public service media into a tool of government propaganda,” media analyst Agnes Urban said at the rally.

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