Der PEGA-Untersuchungsausschuss im Europaparlament hat sich am 16. Februar mit Staatstrojanern in Ungarn beschäftigt. Dávid Dercsényi und Adrien Beauduin wurden von der ungarischen Regierung mit Pegasus überwacht und berichten dem Ausschuss von ihren persönlichen Fällen. Die Sitzung fand im Vorfeld zur Ungarn-Reise des Ausschusses statt. In der abschließenden Pressekonferenz bezeichnete der Ausschussvorsitzende Lenaers die Situation in Ungarn als eine der schlimmsten in der EU.
Dávid Dercsényi ist ungarischer Journalist. Durch die Enthüllung des Journalisten Szabolcs Panyi erfuhr er im Frühjahr 2021 davon, dass sein dienstliches und privates Smartphone sowie das Gerät seiner Ex-Frau gehackt und überwacht wurden. Weshalb genau, weiß er nicht – er mutmaßt, dass die Übersetzung eines Artikels über einen syrischen Terrorverdächtigen der Grund sein könnte, denn investigativer Journalist sei er nicht.
Adrien Beauduin ist belgischer Staatsbürger und verbrachte 2017 ein Auslandssemester an der Zentraleuropäischen Universität in Budapest. Im Rahmen einer studentischen Demonstration verhaftete ihn die Polizei im Dezember 2018, über ein Jahr später wurden Spuren von Pegasus auf seinem Smartphone entdeckt. Beauduin kritisiert vor allem die fehlende Hilfe seitens der EU während seiner Haft. An die EU, speziell die konservativen Fraktionen, richtet er klare Worte:
Deshalb möchte ich mit einem besonderen Dank an die Europäische Volkspartei und die Europäischen Konservativen schließen, an die Mitglieder des EU-Parlaments und Europas, die dieses Monster namens Orbán geschaffen haben und manchmal immer noch dieses Monster namens Orbán verteidigen. Sie haben auf dem Gewissen, dass Sie es möglich gemacht haben, die europäischen Werte, die Rechte der EU-Bürger und die Rechte der ungarischen Bürger wirklich zu untergraben.
Daher hoffe ich, dass Sie jetzt, da dieses Orbán-Monster auch das Werkzeug Putins für seine Aggression gegen die Ukraine und gegen Europa ist, Ihre Verantwortung übernehmen und endlich nicht nur als Parteigänger handeln, die an Geld und Macht interessiert sind, sondern auch als Menschen, die eine Art von Werten haben und sich daran erinnern, warum Europa geschaffen wurde.
Von der Sitzung gibt es ein Video, aber kein offizielles Transkript. Daher veröffentlichen wir ein inoffizielles Transkript.
- Date: 2023-02-16
- Institution: European Parliament
- Committee: PEGA
- Chair: Jeroen Lenaers
- Guests: Dávid Dercsényi, Adrien Beauduin
- Links: Hearing, Video
- Note: This transcript is automated and unofficial, it will contain errors.
- Editors: Anna Seikel
Country hearing: Hungary
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Good morning, colleagues. I propose we start our meeting on this Thursday morning in Strasbourg. Welcome to all. We have interpretation in German, English, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish, Slovakian, Slovenian, Bulgarian and Romanian. The agenda of today’s meeting was sent out. If there is no issues there. I consider it adopted, which they are not, very good.
And then I propose we start immediately with our second point on the agenda, which is the hearing on the use of spyware in Hungary. Of course, we are travelling to Hungary on our mission next week with a strong delegation. We have not yet received any answer from some of the people we would like to meet, including Justice Minister Judit Varga. So we will do our utmost to still reach her. I’m sure she’s excited to meet us, but she has so far not had the time yet to respond to our requests. So we’ll see if we can if we can bring it to her attention again.
But today is a meeting that is dedicated to prepare ourselves for our mission next week. And we have two excellent guests to help us do so. Mr. Dávid Dercsényi and Mr. Adrien Beauduin with my apologies for the pronunciation of both. I will pass the floor to each of the speakers for 10 minutes and then we will have plenty of room for Q&A session with the members present here today.
So we will start with our first speaker. Mr. Dávid Dercsényi, who is local journalist who previously worked for the Hungarian FPG, which has been Hungarian, Hungary’s leading economic and political weekly since it was founded in 1979, and he now runs a local bi-weekly newspaper in Budapest. He was a victim of surveillance in Hungary in 2019, targeted across three different phones, including his personal phone, his work phone and his ex-wife’s phone. And we’re very happy that he was willing to participate in today’s meeting and take the time to give us an update about the situation in Hungary. So, Mr. Dercsényi, you have the floor for about 10 minutes.
Dávid Dercsényi: Thank you. Thank you, Chair. Let me start by a quote: “Everybody in Hungary, all citizens, are entitled to their privacy”. This is a quote from Mr. Szájer. We all know his name. He used to be a member of the European Parliament. His political career ended literally in the gutters when he was climbing down from a party, and this is a famous quote from him, “We are all entitled to our privacy in Hungary.”
My ex-wife was under surveillance, just like my children, whose photographs became available due to surveillance to the intelligence services. It seems that in Hungary, mostly politicians are entitled to their privacy. But journalists who tried to look into their economic network and also their hidden treasures, who are simply a pain in the neck for the government, they don’t seem to have their privacy. They’re going to be under surveillance. I’m not such a journalist. I am a simple run of the mill journalist. I think I probably came under surveillance because I translated an article about migrants from Greece. This was back in 2019. The article was linked to a Syrian terrorist. And the article was about the Greek intelligence services who contacted the other European intelligence services. He was apprehended in Hungary, the terrorist, the Syrian terrorist. And in the article we concluded that the Hungarian intelligence services were aware of his presence.
So that’s how I and my family came to the attention of the intelligence services. And they probably spent a lot of public money to put me and my family under surveillance. The government never apologised, not even symbolically, because everything was lawful. Of course, the law is worded in a way that anybody can be put under surveillance. The Minister of Justice, who’s a political appointee, approved these surveillances. These were not approved by an independent judge. The European Court of Human Rights declared this piece of legislation undemocratic, but it was never amended.
After the scandal broke out Hungarian human rights organisation appealed against these decisions. But the procedures are simply not working because we still don’t know who were under surveillance. There’s no real control over surveillance in Hungary according to the law now. The NGO ‘Tasz’ tried its best why we were chosen for surveillance. But both the Hungarian Parliament and the National Data Protection Authority refused to answer. Either their demand was turned down or simply they are being drawn out without any real answers. We can turn to the European Court of Human Rights, where this NGO is going to turn to very soon, as far as I know. Or we can turn to the European Parliament or other political fora. So it’s also interesting to note that the green light was given by the state secretary of the Minister of Justice. In the meantime, he was in the centre of a big corruption scandal. His first hearing in court is going to take place in a couple of days. He could be facing eight years of prison sentence.
I think that in a country where there is the rule of law, it’s not the journalists who should come under surveillance, but those who commit crimes. Of course, the European Parliament has stated that Hungary is no longer a real democracy. It is a hybrid system. That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much. It was very brief, but very much to the to the point for which I thank you a lot. We move to our second speaker, and then after the second speaker, we’ll have plenty of time for a question and answer source of any questions that members might have for you. Now, our second speaker is Mr. Adrian Beauduin. And again my French is as bad as my Hungarian, so I apologise.
I’m very happy that you’re willing to join us. I remember a year ago, I think when we had a an exchange of views in the LIBE committee meeting on with victims of Pegasus that your case was, was already mentioned by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union also because you were one of the victims in Hungary with also the nationality of another of another member states. I remember that then the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union started cases at the European Court of Human Rights with the Commission in Hungary. So I’m also really looking forward to see what happened since the year that we first heard of your case.
I’m very happy that you’re with us. You were a student activist at the time of your targeting with Pegasus. So you are now a journalist and a PhD student working on research of radical right populist political parties in the Czech Republic and Poland. So thank you very much for joining us, and we look forward to hear your contribution. You also have about 10 minutes, but take as much time as you need. Thank you.
Adrien Beauduin: Thank you for the invitation. Hello, everyone. So my name is Adrien Beauduin. I’m a Belgian citizen. Sorry my cat is going to disturb us. But I hope you still hear me.
So in 2017, when I decided to continue my studies, I chose to go to Budapest, to Hungary, to the Central European University as it is a world renowned university. I also thought that as a EU citizen, I would have the possibility to study anywhere in Europe that I would be safe, that I would get a good education, that I would enjoy pretty much the same rights as everyone else does. Little did I know what would await me.
So already in the fall of 2018, for those who don’t remember, as a PhD student in gender studies at the Central European University, first of all, I was, as everyone in Hungary, working on topics of gender based inequality, of discrimination against sexual minorities. We were facing increased censorship from the part of the Hungarian government. It was not allowed to talk about those topics anymore in state run institutions. In October 2018, the discipline of gender studies was banned by the Hungarian government, meaning that public universities could not teach this discipline anymore. And then at that time also, my university was being closed by the Hungarian government, the Central European University, under a false pretext. So as you can see in Europe in 2018, we were having topics who were being banned, disciplines were being banned, universities were being banned. And this was all in a country that was supposed to be democratic and respectful of all rights.
At that time, obviously, I, as in someone who has been brought up in values of democracy, of someone who knows that they have rights, someone who think that it’s worth it to fight for those values, to fight for those rights, I got involved with other students. I felt that not only as that as a European citizen everything that happens in Europe also concerns me. It means that if something goes wrong in one European country, things go wrong for all European citizens in all European countries. And this is why I decided to get involved with student activists. I also thought that it was my duty to stand up for academic freedom in Hungary, not only for me, because our university was already preparing to move to Austria, but also for Hungarian students who didn’t have this possibility and would be left alone without media attention while their government becomes more and more authoritarian. So this is why I got involved.
I was just a normal student activist. I was completely unknown. I don’t think my name ever came up in the Hungarian media before getting involved and before. And at a demonstration in December 2018, I was arrested by the police as they just swept through the crowds. I was not targeted for doing anything. But to my great surprise after spending a night at the police station, the police just decided to accuse me with group assault on the police. So despite having absolutely no proofs, they gave the same accusation, actually to the six persons who were in the cell. So it was just copy paste accusation. I was facing 2 to 8 years of prison in a country whose language I barely spoke just for attending a demonstration. Hopefully after three days in jail, I did realise perhaps that it was not a good idea to create political prisoners. So they decided to release me until my trial. I was then very much shocked, but at least free to go around. I did not plan on leaving the country because I did have I did still have some hope that there was some kind of justice in Hungary. So I stayed.
I continued my studies despite everything. I was continuing to be active because I would not let myself be scared by this government. And only later on did I realise, and a year later, perhaps a year and a half, I realised that shortly after I was released from jail the Hungarian special services had spied on my phone. So it was not very clear what was actually done. They say that it was probably maybe just an attempt to hack the phone, but somehow it didn’t work or the phone was hacked, Anyways there are clear traces on my phone that Pegasus was used against me.
You can imagine the irony of the whole thing, since Viktor Orbán himself was a student activist that 30 years later was fighting against the communist dictatorship or was using exactly the same methods. And 30 years later, once again, student activists in Hungary are being targeted by the special services just for exercising their freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. So for me, this has been an eye opening experience about the fact that many things have failed in Europe. I think that the EU has failed the Hungarian citizens. I think the EU has failed EU citizens living in Hungary and every citizen living in Hungary.
Obviously, I’m aware of politics in the EU, and this is why I would just like to conclude with a special thank you to the EPP and ECR, members of the EU Parliament and of Europe who have created this monster called Orbán and are defending still sometimes this monster called Orbán. I think you have on your conscience the fact that you have made it possible to really undermine European values, to undermine the rights of EU citizens, to undermine the rights of Hungarian citizens. So hopefully now that this Orbán monster is also the tool of Putin for its aggression against Ukraine and against Europe, I hope that now you will take your responsibility and finally act not only as partisans who are interested in money and power, but also as people who have some kind of values and who remember why Europe was created. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. Thank you very much. And thanks to the cat for allowing the contribution to be made. And thank you also for your frank message which was wider than only Pegasus. But as an EPP politician myself, I don’t mind being criticised because I think we can all learn from our behaviour in the past and hope that we can do better in the future. So thank you for being so frank. I appreciate that.
And I move immediately to our Q&A session and we’ll start with our rapporteur, Sophie in ’t Veld. I would like to ask other members that would like to take the floor to please indicate do. Thank you.
Sophie in ’t Veld (Renew): Thank you, Chair. And thanks to our two guests. My first set of questions is to Mr. Dercsényi. I’m sorry if I massacre your name. Um, uh, can you say a little bit more about how and when you found out that three of your phones had been infected? When did you, you know, when did you get any suspicions? When did you notice?
Then you said that you were probably targeted because you translated an article which, in summary, made the Hungarian intelligence services look silly. So is that enough to become a target? Because I know that there have been lots of targets in Hungary, like hundreds. But given that the use of spyware, you know, also costs money, it’s not for free. Uh, the ones using the spyware have to pay for every single target, let’s say. Um, so you consider that you’re worth that much. Basically, you’re worth the investment and the fact that you translated this one article. Um, and then so you sought legal remedy, um, including with the Data Protection Authority, but basically you got no reply. You didn’t get an answer?
Um, my last question is, so you are taking the legal challenge to the court in Strasbourg or also Luxembourg? We’re only in Strasbourg because I can see that there’s more at stake than just your well, “just” your human rights being violated. I think there are also couple of EU laws which have been violated, not least the one on the independence of the Data Protection Authority, which has already, I believe, been slammed by the European Commission.
Um, and then to Mr. Beauduin. So I understand that in the meantime, I think you’ve been cleared, the charges or there’s been a trial and you’ve not been convicted. So there’s no problem. But would you consider that the attempt or the accusations against you were meant to intimidate you? Why do you think you posed a threat to the to the authorities? Same question also to you, how and when did you find out that your phone was infected? And can you also say a little bit more about the legal remedy that you sought because you said that you were very disappointed, which I understand. But can you say a little bit more in detail as to what kind of remedy you have sought? And do you believe that there is any public instance left that is independent and willing to really investigate. Those be my questions.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much. Then we start with Mr. Dercsényi.
Dávid Dercsényi: I became aware of the surveillance in the spring of 2021. That is when the list came out by a journalist called Szabolcs Panyi, who himself was also under surveillance. He wrote an article for Telex and told me that he was almost certain that I was being spied on. I, I wasn’t aware of that. But on the list were three phone numbers, which I used. One was the work phone at my then journal and then my personal phone and a phone used by my ex-wife, which was registered under my name. She’s a Greek citizen. It was easier for us to sign the Hungarian contract with the service provider by me. And so those three numbers were on that list, which were leaked to this journalist, Mr. Panyi.
We didn’t know why I was put on this list. We were trying to guess with Szabolcs. I just couldn’t think of anything which could have made me a target because I am not an investigating journalist. I wasn’t involved in any special projects. I did not have confidential sources that they wanted to spy on. So this was absurd and strange because I’m just a run of the mill journalist, an average journalist and I think you really didn’t need to do anything to be, to get on a list like that, because we now know the stories of people who were being spied on. Some private citizens, for example, people who owned a company which was in the crosshair of government people, around the government or people who became slightly awkward for the government. Or interpersonal conflicts may have been resolved this way. So money was not a problem for them, apparently.
I translated an article and that article was published in my journal, HVG. That really wasn’t worth it, as far as I can tell. The money that they spent on me. And I’m only guessing. So this is my best guess that they put me on that list because I translated that article. We have no way of receiving any information. Journalists who were being spied on then formed a group and this group is represented by Tasz, which is the Society for Civil Liberties. It’s a human right, human rights organisation. And I think they also represent Adrien. Oh, yes. And then they tried all legal avenues in Hungary and now they are turning to international instances. Maybe they will be more effective. Because Hungarian authorities either said no or didn’t even bother to reply. There are some cases ongoing, but they take a long time and we are not very hopeful. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much. Just to indicate that, of course, during our visit to Budapest next week, we’ll also speak to Mr. Panyi and to representatives of Tasz. So this this conversation we will continue next week, obviously, as well, Mr. Beauduin.
Adrien Beauduin: Thank you. So, yes, as you have said, the charges were dropped two years after the facts. So there were no, there was no trial. The charges were simply dropped. I still have charges because I went to the demonstration not planning on doing so. I had a lot of stuff, my ice skates, my books. I also had a paper knife for arts and crafts that has been considered a weapon. So I still have that charge pending on me. But I haven’t heard anything for four years, so I don’t think they still want to do anything with that.
When it comes to why I was targeted, why I was accused. I think this was something they used against Hungarian civil society, because, as I said, there were six young people who were arrested on that, in that sweep in the same cell, and we had exactly copy pasted the same accusation. So, no, I don’t think I was targeted because I was a foreigner, because I was from that discipline, from that university. I think they try to scare the Hungarian society in general, to scare the demonstrators because those were more intense demonstrations than they have been used. The police used tear gas and batons and they were quite violent on that night. So I think that they got a bit scared and they tried to just discourage people from taking the streets by putting those absurd accusations against everyone they could. So, yes, this is, I think, all you asked.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much. And I give the floor to colleague vice chair. So please.
Sándor Rónai (Socialists and Democrats): Thank you very much. If you don’t mind, I’m going to ask our guests in Hungarian. I would also like to welcome our two guests. Thank you for accepting our invitation and being here at this hearing. And let me join our president and say that wee cannot have more guests. We did invite more, but they did not reply or did not accept the invitation.
Turning to Dávid first. My questions are the following. Even today, it’s not completely clear who signed the surveillance documents. All of these have been declared a state secret for a number of years. And so these are not classified documents. Do you have any more information about this? Zsolt Molnár was also invited who was the socialist president of the National Security Committee at the time, but he couldn’t accept our invitation. I wonder whether he could have given us an answer to that.
In January 2022 a five page report came out about the Pegasus affair, but most of it was again classified and meant for a number of decades it’s going to be, is going to remain classified. What do you think about this and also about the statement of Minister Varga? Who claims that the requests for surveillance are signed by the state secretary, who is under investigation for and caught up in a big corruption scandal. The minister of justice is supposed to sign off on these requests. And theoretically, she shouldn’t delegate this mandate. And also now the intelligence services are overseen by another ministry, Minister Rógan, now. So it’s no longer within the remit of Minister Varga. Again, another question. How did you learn about being under surveillance, just simply talking to Mr. Punyi, or were there any signs of being spied on before it came to your knowledge?
And now turning to Adrien. It was in 2018 that we learned your name. These famous protests or demonstrations against what we call the “slave law” at the time. They let you go in the end. But is there any other procedures going on? They found a pair of scissors in your backpack, in your rucksack, and they tried to go take that and run with it. Has that come to anything, of course, the Hungarian government and the police tried to scare off people and intimidate demonstrators. Is there any aftershock of what happened to, any negative consequences of what they did to you?
And again, how did you exactly, know, learn about being under surveillance? Why would you have the impression that you were being spied on with Pegasus, the Pegasus software? And what legal steps could you take at the time? Or can you take now? What kind of remedy can you seek? And thank you for your frank opinion. And I’m not trying to protect my colleagues, but Viktor Orbán started out as a young communist and then came the Soros scholarship, and then he was the deputy president of the into the liberal International. And now he’s come a long way to be where he is. So it’s quite a long way to go in such a short time. And we agree that unfortunately, his interests often run against the interests of Europe and Hungary. Thank you. And I am looking forward to your answers.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Rónai. And we’ll start in the same order. So, Mr. Dercsényi, you have the floor. I’ll go first to you.
Dávid Dercsényi: Okay. Where to begin? So. I don’t have any information on what had been going on in the committee. You, as a politician, on behalf of the Democratic coalition, probably know more because your party actually has people in this parliamentary committee in Hungary. I don’t have any information. But I have not seen any technical signs like Echo or anything that would have prompted me to believe that I was being spied on. So my only source of information at that time was Szabolcs Panyi.
And since then, perhaps I realise that there may have been indirect signs because people simply do not deny these facts. I mean, we had interviews in my then journal, HVG which actually sort of made it clear that we were being spied on. What was the next question?
Okay. And the fact that these decisions are delegated to or were delegated to the state secretary, Mr. Pal Volner. Now he’s now under investigation for corruption. And now we have wiretaps of him incriminating himself. And in one of the wire steps, he is complaining about having received responsibility for surveillance. So that kind of tells me that maybe this was an excuse invented later on. So that pushed this thing onto this guy. And then Minister Varga can get rid of the responsibility, because in the end, it was the Ministry of Justice that signed off on these orders. And she is responsible. She has to be held responsible. And I think these were the questions that I received. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Beauduin.
Adrien Beauduin: So. Yes. As you have said, those charges, the main charges about group assault against the police were dropped two years after. But after being released about three months later, so in February 2019, I was called in to the police and they gave me new charges of possession of a particularly dangerous weapon. So as you have said, this is a paper knife. So this pretty much cuts on the paper or carton. And it has a long blade, but definitely not a blade that can, you know, cut anything serious. But I understand that this is, you know, basically probably just the police doing their job. I don’t really see, I don’t think there’s something particularly politically motivated there. I think it’s, the law is not very clear about what a blade should be. So I just take it as something that would probably maybe happen anywhere. But I haven’t heard back from them. So this has been close to four years now. So probably this is just sitting in a drawer or some somewhere. I don’t know why they wouldn’t either drop it or proceed it. I have no idea. And I think that this is all you asked me. Or did I miss part of your question?
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): No. We had a confirmation that all questions were answered. And we have spoken a lot on this committee about dual use regulation, but not so far in the framework of arts and crafts night. So maybe this is something we could consider later. Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield.
Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield (Greens): Yes. Thank you. Hello to both of you. I would have first a question for Mr., sorry, . I should have had your name. I was not prepared. I should have your name just in front of me. But I didn’t. Dercsényi. And first thing is, could you elaborate a bit? Because I think this is not something we’ve been touching that much in this committee well enough, I would say, on how it changes your way of living. And what feeling does it create when even you say your children were impacted, your ex-wife, so somebody that doesn’t even live with you anymore. How does it, what impact it has in daily life?
My second question would be, do you know exactly, so you’ve had no news from the committee, I understand, because there was a committee put in place in the parliament. I think doing the mission, we will be able to talk to people that were in this committee, members of the parliament. So maybe we will know more there. But how did you evaluate the work of this committee? Were you formally questioned? Did you have the opportunity to say things? It would be interesting as a victim to know how you evaluate this committee.
And then third question. When we went on an official mission in September ‘21, this parliament mission. So the people that are working on the file of Hungary in this parliament mission, that was one of the element that brought us to do a report. You talked about it just saying it was a hybrid, Hungary is now a hybrid democracy. This is, Pegasus is the only thing I think we were not prepared for. We knew everything. We didn’t discover that much during these two days of hearings on independence of justice, on media pluralism, on criminalisation of NGO, but the fear that the Pegasus scandal had created, this was really something that came up very strongly. And basically a lot of journalists, for example, told us that for them it was a turning point. And for the first time they had the feeling of really being in a authoritarian country. Do you do you feel this also? Would you make the same evaluation?
For Mr. Beauduin, I would like just to know again, to elaborate a bit on the fear that being surveilled creates and does it provoke a self-censorship? Would you now that you’re a journalist and you’ve been out and you’ve experienced other things, do you remember the effect that it can have on your work and on the on the things that you want to express? Did you have any contact with the authorities since you have left because you don’t live anymore in Hungary? Did they in one way try to take contact because of the fact that you discovered you had been surveilled? And also I would like to know if other authorities, the one, your own authorities, the Belgian authorities, did you have any contact with them also? Did they take this in account?
For both of you I would have a last question. Do you think other surveillance aspects have been used against you? Hungarian authorities have a long track record of other aspects of surveillance and also activists sometimes tell me that they have the feeling that they have cars, for example, that are parked in front of, constantly parked in front of their flats and all of this. Do you also think that other surveillance were used against you?
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Dercsényi.
Dávid Dercsényi: Okay so I haven’t really changed my life. And the reason for that is that I was not in contact with any people who were special in the way that they had to be protected. It didn’t really change my life. I, I continue living as before. I am now editor of that local journal. But those who actually do investigative journalism, some of them got scared. I heard. And are now more careful.
But it makes me angry that they actually went after my family, that my children became part of this story. My ex-wife. And by that time we had been separated for three years and even her conversations were wiretapped and she was under surveillance. And that is unacceptable. Just plain unacceptable and makes you angry.
As for the parliamentary committee, I’m not happy with that. In Hungarian parliamentary committees, you have pro-government majorities, so they can dominate that committee or classify information that comes up there. So these parliamentary committees and their activities are pointless, really. They do not help the public understand the case or get any additional information, just as the whole Hungarian parliament is really just a back up to maintain this aura of a democracy. I say that with due respect, of course, for the Opposition MPs who are trying to do their best, who do their best, but. they really legitimise the regime, the political system established by Fidesz, which is basically a hybrid electoral autocracy. Which gains its majority through elections, but they dominate the economy and media to such an extent. And legislation to such an extent that they can really change the electoral law at a whim. And the you know, believing in parliamentary scrutiny is just, I mean, you no longer have that hope. And. So if there are conflicts within government circles that they want to get a message through, that’s when information leaks and that’s when we have scandals. Well, that’s rare. For example, now that the EU suspended funding for Hungary that led to internal warfare within Fidesz. Um, I’m trying to remember questions that I haven’t replied to.
No, I haven’t, I haven’t noticed anything. Cars and such, or being followed. It would be strange, really. I think it was enough for them to just hack my phones. But of course they can go on spying on you, as is the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Pintér said. Some years ago the law was phrased in such a way that anyone can be spied on. But I haven’t, I haven’t experienced any of that.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much, Mr. Beauduin.
Adrien Beauduin: Yeah. So I just remembered about the previous question that so I did find out about Pegasus only in probably the spring of 2020 when a group of journalists were investigating with some leaked lists. So I was already out of the country about probably ten months. So obviously for me, the fear impact of Pegasus was quite limited for me and my time in Hungary. And the two years I spent there were over. I was continuing my studies from abroad.
What it did do is just kind of have one more impact on my faith in the European Union and the fact that it can let such a regime develop right in its midst. And obviously, the impact was not as great as, you know, spending two days in prison with the impression that you might spend two years there in a speedy trial and spending the night in the in the cell next to terror has exactly the same place where the Gestapo and the KGB had their seats. It’s still, there’s still a prison there. So, you know, spending time there was deeply traumatic, forced me to do therapy. So this was a lot worse than Pegasus itself.
Yeah, just it just confirms what we’ve already known, is the fact that and nothing is private on the Internet. Nothing is private on technology. Obviously, I did not expect that, you know, EU government would be the one to just with whole impunity spying not only on journalists but also just on very low level activists like me. So I’m not doing investigative journalists, so I don’t feel particularly threatened. I’m still writing my Ph.D. So journalism is not my main occupation. But of course, in the future, and this is a lesson for me.
When it comes to the Belgian authorities, they were not very active. I’m also, I’m a dual citizen with Canada. So when I was in jail, Canadian authorities came to see me. The Belgians said I was too delicate for them to intervene. So it’s also very sad to see that somehow, because it’s an EU country, Hungary has full impunity also, not only on the EU level, but also from other EU member states who don’t dare to take the same kind of interventions they would take if it was not the EU countries. So this is what this was disappointing and obviously it was disappointing that no, I was never contacted by the Belgian authorities concerning Pegasus and neither here in the country where I live in the Czech Republic or from Brussels. And yeah, also obviously the Hungarian authorities, they do whatever they want. I think it’s pretty clear. So, no, they do not try to contact me or apologise or say anything. I think they they have not confirmed that anything happened to me and I think they will never do unless maybe the EU takes its responsibilities. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you very much. Róża Thun.
Róża Thun und Hohenstein (Renew Europe): Thank you to and thank you, both of our guests. After enduring all those experiences I understand it’s not extremely pleasant to go back to them and talk about them, etc., but it’s fantastic or it’s very important. And we’re very grateful that you help us to clarify all those.
And I would like to know if you know what kind of data were collected or were captured and where they are. And do you have any information and do you know who disposes of them? Can they be used again or are they used? Or who has access to them, on whose hands they are? Or are they deleted maybe or not? Or do you have any information about those? Have you asked maybe? Or have you used any, I know that Amnesty International, for example, is extremely active on this field and tries to find the victims, help victims to find out about it.
Then another issue I would like to know, this is especially for the sort of general public in Hungary. We are coming on Monday. And I would like to know, is there a feeling or sort of general prudence, distrust, because everybody feels, how to say, endangered or everything can be bugged and captured and recorded and used against you? Do you have a feeling of distrust from the citizen to citizen? You know, this is always a practice of a dictatorship to destroy the society, the solidarity, the unity, etc. as it worked so in Hungary, the relation between people?
And the last maybe, I don’t know if you can answer this, of the many people who emigrate or want to emigrate, if the plans when you talk to people, do they say, I can’t anymore, I am living here, I’m being surveilled or potentially or whatever? You know, this is not a democratic country anymore. I am Polish. So, you know, I ask those questions like from someone who experiences similar practices. And I would like also to compare and know where I am, when I will be on Monday and on the side Sunday, I will go to see the last day of the El Greco exhibition. So, you know, you have the best art at the same time in the most awful practices as far as democracy is concerned. Thank you very much.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Róża. Mr. Dercsényi.
Dávid Dercsényi: No, we have no access to any data or information. The law is absurd because they cannot divulge any information. The law says that they cannot share information. So we come full circle there. But then you can get a more professional explanation from Tasz when you’ll be meeting them. So. We received no information from the Hungarian government whatsoever.
As for society at large, they don’t really care. For a number of reasons. Well, I’ve already alluded to the fact that Fidesz now dominates in quite a suffocating way. The entire society, media and the economy, so they can manipulate people’s thinking. So I think in people’s mind, the country is okay. We have Viktor Orbán. And when they go to vote, oh, yes, I can see Orbán’s name. Let’s vote for him, especially in the countryside. So voting for Orbán, I think for many people has become automatic. And people don’t care about being spied on. They worry about inflation, prices going up, huge inflation we have in Hungary, salaries are low. So we just want to get through to the end of this month without having to ask for a loan from our neighbours. So I think people are worried about their jobs and about the cost of living, at least the people that I know, that I meet on a daily basis.
And Pegasus, data protection, these abstract things and problems, you know, they just can’t relate to these things. Or anything about civil rights or public liberties. Hungarian society has not been particularly sensitive to these issues in the last 10 to 15 years. I think it’s become even worse. We now have even less solidarity within society. Obviously there are forces, NGOs trying to turn back that tide, but still, I think, you cannot count on society forcing change. And I can highly recommend the El Greco exhibition at the museum.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Beauduin.
Adrien Beauduin: Yes. So maybe also to complete with the previous question about being followed. So this is something that also happened to me. As soon as it came out of jail, I noticed that what seemed like police officers in plainclothes were following me around to demonstrations, from demonstrations. They were quite obvious and easy to spot. I was obviously always looking around me for the next months when I was walking, I always had the impression that I was being watched. I was looking out my window because I was always trying to, it was hard to sleep for four, four weeks and four months because of this. There was also rumours around activists about, oh, this person is non EU foreigner. The migration services are using them as a intel, because an informant because they say they’re using pressure with the visa. So there were those things or you know, you would have a meeting of different activists and political forces and the list would be leaked by the Fidesz media. So you knew that someone had somehow reported. So there was this constant fear in the activist circles of informants, of surveillance. And I think that they’re doing it quite in a non-subtle manner, because the main tool is mostly to make people afraid. I don’t think they’re really that interested in the information itself.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. Thijs Reuten.
Thijs Reuten (Socialists and Democrats): Yeah. Thank you. Thank you Chair. And thank you for being with us. Yep. You’ve touched upon it in your previous answers, but I would like to, maybe rephrase it again, because we all know in the current state of rule of law in Hungary t something as a legal remedy or independent committee that you could turn to does not exist. But was there anyone? Was there anyone any not even an official but anyone that you felt you could turn to? Or was there really just the European Court of Human Rights or the European Parliament are there? So apart from NGOs, was there any official you felt safe to turn to?
And my second question is, obviously, we are trying to get to the bottom of this. But if you would be in our shoes, what would your first sort of fix be if you would have to say something about the context in your country related to the spyware scandal, where would we have to put the emphasis on when it comes to Hungary? Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Dercsényi.
Dávid Dercsényi: Our story was the following. Tasz, this Legal Aid or human rights NGO contacted me and I thought that their lawyers were experienced enough already at the European Court of Human Rights. So I trust, I had trust in them. I trusted that they would be able to represent me efficiently. I think it was only logical to let Tasz, this NGO, represent us. When all of this came to light it was also a question whether we would give our names and faces in the media, in the press. I thought it was very important that we did not hide behind anonymity, and we showed an example that you have to go public because the media and public opinion is the best way to protect yourself. I think this was an important decision at the beginning.
What you should focus on in this whole affair, that’s a tough, that’s a tough one. I would turn to the government and ask questions and demand questions and not let them hide behind the usual narrative, the lot of hot air that we are used to because they have to spin doctors to solve these communication problems. And I think human rights activists can be your best allies in finding the exact questions that you should pose to the government. There, you would hope to find results. And how you can corner the government or a specific minister or a politician, where they would feel awkward and they would be forced to say something.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. Mr. Beauduin.
Adrien Beauduin: Yeah, I don’t have a lot to add, but I think it would be important to make sure that Pegasus story is not taken individually from the rest of the Orbán system. I think it’s only one of the tools, so hopefully this report will reflect it. Hopefully this report will also reflect on the fact that Pegasus is being used by many countries or they have similar spywares. So unfortunately, it’s not only a problem of authoritarian regimes like the Hungarian one, it’s not only a personal problem of the Orbán regime. So I hope also that you will all reflect on those things.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. Maybe some short questions for myself as well. Mr. Beauduin, you said that when you learned about the that the Pegasus targeting for you personally, you already left the country. So it had less of an impact on you than the sort of, the arrest and detention. But are you, do you, do you know the dates, etc., when you were targeted? Is that all when you were in Hungary? There was no, you’re absolutely sure that there was no targeting, for instance, when you were on the territory of other member states?
And you also spoke about the loss of faith in the European Union. Of course, this was about the Hungarian, about the Belgians not intervening because it was too delicate and was also referring, I guess, to the arrest and the detention and not the Pegasus case. And I was wondering just your feelings about the past year, because like I said in my introduction in and this is a question to both of you, when we had the meeting a year ago in the in the LIBE committee and there was also a need the news that that Tasz on behalf of six clients started cases before the Hungarian authorities, the European Commission, the European Court of Human Rights, and in Israel as well. Now, of course, like I said, we will meet with representatives of Tasz next week, so I’m sure we can get an update on the progress in all these cases. But just for you as sort of the victims in this case, how have you experienced those legal proceedings? Have you heard anything from the European Commission, for instance, with regards to your the complaint that was that was made through Tasz, etc.? If you could maybe give us a little bit more feedback on that. Maybe we start with Mr. Beauduin this time.
Adrien Beauduin: Yes. Thank you. So, yeah, I’m not an expert in IT, but the people at the Amnesty International forensics lab have been doing a great job. So just by, you know, taking my phone, they’ve been able to find the traces of the spyware, but also to tell me what happened so we could see that there was communication between my phone and some cloud that was used by Pegasus, I think it was on the 18th and 19th of December 2018. So this was about five days after I was released from prison. So yeah, I do see that as very much linked that they just decided to just check out, you know, this activist and be like, “Oh, maybe through him we can kind of see the networks or whether what those students are up to”. But, you know, once again, I also I’m a bit puzzled by the fact that they would spend so much money on a person like me. But I think it shows how determined they are to not let even the smallest kind of acts of dissent go unpunished and undetected.
When it comes to my faith in the EU, yes. I mean, it’s absolutely crazy to see how we got to this point and to see that the EU was not prepared. And the EU, according to me, has failed. So this is obviously very disappointing. I hope that proceedings, so you your committee, I hope that the trials so the cases that we have been bringing forward, thanks to the great job of Tasz, I think that they will give us the final answer. Are we wrong to lose all faith or can we say that we’re, you know, we’re back on the trail of repairing, healing from this what I would call a cancer in Europe. And so I think you will give us the answers, whether we are right or wrong about losing faith in the EU institutions.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. Mr. Dercsényi.
Dávid Dercsényi: I don’t really have any information from Tasz or updates. Sometimes they do send us information. They set up a website on which we can follow the various cases so that clients can check on their ongoing cases. And I think they are marked, in my case, as ongoing or pending. So the case is that they started with the various EU instances. So that’s all I know on that score.
And I’d also like to say something about being critical of the EU. I think that it has been a very slow awakening on the part of the of the union to the things that Orbán had been doing. I mean, we’ve seen this anti-European rhetoric for many, many years. “Brussels is the new Moscow oppressing us”. So government officials and politicians are now using a language and words as if we were being oppressed by an empire. And yet we joined that, you know, and we receive billions of euros. And of course, most of that money ends up being spent by Orbán’s cronies. So there is a strong anti-EU campaign going on in Hungary and at the same time, the EU until quite recently bent over backwards trying to deal, come to set up deals with this government. But I think Orbán is way past that point now. I think he has other plans, maybe. And I think you should simply try to stop him now. And perhaps you are trying. That’s with regards to EU funding, to Hungary, for example.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. There was one follow up question from Sophie in ´t Veld. Please.
Sophie in ’t Veld (Renew): Yes, Thank you, Chair, for allowing a second round. Both gentlemen of make remarks which of which trigger new questions. Mr. Dercsényi, you mentioned at some point that the state secretary who had allegedly signed the surveillance orders for you, that he’s in court now himself, and that there are tapes where he is complaining, you said about the fact that he’s being made, he’s being scapegoated basically for the surveillance operation, when in reality it’s the minister of justice. How do we get access to these tapes? Is that in the public domain? And if so, how? Because that’s very interesting that how was that? Is it leaked or is it you know, given that everything else seems to be covered up and kept under lock and key. So I’d be very interested in hear more about that.
And to Mr. Beauduin, you said that given your dual citizenship you had around the time of your arrest, if I if I understood correctly, you have been approached by the Canadian authorities for support, which you were very disappointed. You said with the very weak or no support you received from the Belgian authorities. I would like to know a little bit more about that. Exactly when did you approach the Belgian authorities or did you approach them? Which kind of supports did you request? Which department did you did you approach? Can you say a little bit more about that? Because I would like to understand a bit more about why the Belgian authorities would not come to the defence of their own citizens.
And maybe one last remark. I think I fully understand and share your frustration with the very slow and inadequate reaction of the European Union when it comes to democratic backsliding in several member states, not just Hungary. But I hope you also see that there are lots of people also in the European institutions, not least the European Parliament, who have been fighting for this. And something seems to be moving now. It’s slow, it’s late, but it’s not too late. So don’t give them up. Don’t give up yet. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you. We start with Mr. Dercsényi.
Dávid Dercsényi: Okay, so this story is basically about the bailiffs. So the head of the Chamber of Bailiffs in Hungary set up a mafia like organisation. And they basically made a lot of money through corruption, and that was before the last elections. Some of it was leaked. They were under wiretap. The state secretary and the head of the Chamber of Bailiffs. And after the election, as I think Mr. Rónai alluded to, the supervision of the Secret Service was passed on to another minister. Minister Rógan, who is the right hand man of Orbán, and that may have been done to make surveillance even easier. So if they see, you know, people that need to be spied on, this under the Second Amendment could be easier. Orbán has his own system of nurturing talent, so to speak. So he allows people to rise up to a point. But then he slaps them down if they become too strong so that they do not endanger his or endanger his political system. So when these tapes became public my guess is that it’s because there was an internal conflict within Fidesz. These wiretaps keep leaking to various newspapers or TV station. I think they’ve let the state secretary go so he’s the fall guy. He’s not under arrest. He’s not in detention. But I don’t think he can get out of this. But all of that, I think, is basically because of an internal conflict within Fidesz. Thank you.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): Thank you, Mr. Beauduin.
Adrien Beauduin: Yeah. So thank you for your question. So what exactly happened? Yes. The Canadian authorities came to see me in detention, offered help. I was already being represented by Tasz, so I felt that I did had the right legal help necessary. But when I got out of detention, I did call the Belgian authorities to ask, why didn’t they come? I kind of did expect my country to come and at least see me. But they had said like, oh, well, we knew the Canadians were coming. So, you know, for us it’s more delicate because, you know, it’s a fellow EU member state, so there’s not much we can do. So that was that was rather weird and disappointing. Also didn’t really follow up at all. I mean, they asked me, Oh yeah, can you send us to act of accusation? You know, you’re kind of, the file. So I did send them by email. I think I never got any answer. So, you know, I didn’t turn for help because I anymore. Because I didn’t, I just realised that there was nothing to expect from them. I don’t know if it’s normal or if it’s something with the Hungarian embassy. And but we know that a lot of the, you know, Western embassies in Hungary are being very, very friendly with the regime and not daring to do anything because they want good business relations. So I think that’s quite a shame. But I don’t want to maybe draw bigger conclusions.
Sophie in ’t Veld (Renew): May I ask you which department you contacted or did you just go, did you contact the embassy or did you contact a ministry or where did you turn?
Adrien Beauduin: I just spoke to the embassy. Maybe it was the first secretary or I mean, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the ambassador, but yeah, I mean, after hearing that, I kind of understood that, you know, there’s nothing to expect from the Belgian authorities in this case. So I decided to, you know, I felt like I had good help in Hungary. And I felt that, you know, worst case scenarios, Canadian authorities were very hands on with this issue. But after the contact with the embassy, I just and after no answer to my email, obviously, then I just decided, okay, well. Too bad.
Jeroen Lenaers (Chair): What I am no expert in in diplomacy, but an answer to an email should not be too much to expect, I would say. So maybe we can have a quick look in there because if this is if this is a standard procedure when EU citizens are being arrested and detained in such a way within the EU and we treat them differently than when this would happen in a third country, of course, this is something not necessarily within the scope of our committee, but it is concerning nonetheless. Thank you. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you both for being with us today for providing such useful insights into the situation in Hungary. And I’ve said this before, but we, of course in our committee for the past nine months, we have spoken to too many people who were targeted or victims of this kind of spyware. And every time we speak to a victim, it is it is equally impressive, the impact it has on your personal life, on the anger you feel for also targeting indirectly your children, loved ones, friends. So I just wanted to really sincerely thank you for being with us today.
Also, thank you for scrutinising us and critically following us and what we do and invite you to please continue doing so. Because if there’s one thing democracy needs, it is scrutiny also from journalism, activism, etc.. So thank you very much. And also, please do follow us when we are in Budapest next week. And if you if you have any input or ideas, please let us know. Thank you. Thank you very much.
That is concluding our session this morning on Hungary. Next time we meet will be in Budapest for those who are participating in the mission. I see that apart from Renew, there are no coordinators yet present. Saskia is just outside. But I propose that we keep the original time for the coordinators at 11:00, when we also have the legal service present. And we take a short break now. Thank you all.