Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigns over child abuse pardon scandalon February 10, 2024 at 6:56 pm

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Katalin Novak steps down live on TV after pardoning man jailed for covering up sexual abuse at a children’s home.

A screen shows the Hungarian President Katalin Novak as she announces her resignationImage source, Reuters

The president of Hungary has resigned live on television over a decision to pardon a man convicted of covering up a child sexual abuse case.

It was revealed last week President Novak had given clemency to a man jailed for forcing children to retract sexual abuse claims against a director of a state-run children’s home.

Protests calling for her to step down had been growing in Hungary.

Ms Novak apologised and said she made “a mistake” in granting the pardon.

Judit Varga, the former minister of justice who approved the pardon, has also resigned from her new role leading the European elections campaign for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

The controversy which led to the resignations came after the names of 25 people pardoned by Ms Novak in April last year, as part of a visit to Hungary by Pope Francis, were made public by Hungarian media last week.

On the list of convicts was the deputy director of a children’s home near Budapest, who had been jailed for three years after forcing children to retract claims of abuse against the director of the home.

The director had himself been jailed for eight years over abusing children at the government-run facility.

Hungarian opposition parties and protesters had been demanding her resignation, but Ms Novak’s decision to do so was as sudden as it was unexpected.

Ms Novak is a popular figure in Fidesz and a rare female politician in a male-dominated country. She is a key ally of Hungarian Mr Orban and previously worked as his family minister.

In 2022, she became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of Hungarian president.

The case has unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for Hungary’s long-serving nationalist government.

In particular, it caused deep embarrassment for Fidesz, which has made traditional family values the cornerstone of its social policy.

Speaking in an address live on television, Ms Novak said she granted the pardon in the belief the convicted man “did not exploit the vulnerability of the children under his oversight”.

She apologised to victims who “might have felt that I did not stand up for them”.

“I made a mistake, as the pardon and the lack of reasoning were conducive to triggering doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to paedophilia,” Ms Novak added.

In addition to the resignation of Ms Novak, another leading female politician from Fidesz has also resigned over the same case.

Judit Varga, who was minister of justice at the time of the pardon, countersigned the clemency decision.

The double resignation of its two most prominent female politicians is a serious setback for Mr Orban and his party, with Ms Varga due to head the Fidesz list in the European elections in June.

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