Budapest, December 17 (MTI) – Communist-era party functionary Bela Biszku on Thursday received a suspended prison sentence for complicity in war crimes.
The Municipal Court of Budapest acting as a court of first instance, however, exonerated Biszku of the charges of ordering the shooting of a total of 49 anti-communist protesters in December 1956 and the beating of academics in March 1957.
The court said it was unable to establish that Biszku, as a member of the Provisional Executive Committee, a central steering body of the then newly formed Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP), served as the instigator of the shootings. The court said there was no evidence that the shootings were even ordered by the Communist leadership.
The court’s reasoning behind the suspended prison sentence was that Biszku was complicit in the crimes because he had failed to hold the actual perpetrators to account.
Biszku was indicted in 2013 for his role in the Provisional Executive Committee’s setting up a special police force, directly controlled by its members, which was then responsible for firing shots at the public, including unarmed protesters. Biszku’s role was qualified as a war crime.
In 2014, a lower court declared Biszku guilty of instigation and complicity to homicide and sentenced him to five and a half years in prison, but in June of this year, a municipal appeals court annulled that ruling and ordered a new trial.
In an additional but separate case, Biszku was found guilty of unlawful possession of ammunition.
He was also found guilty of publicly denying the crimes of the Communist regime in two television interviews in which he referred to the 1956 uprising as a “counter-revolution” and disputed that the Communist Party sentenced its political opponents in show trials.
Gabor Magyar, Biszku’s attorney, said on the sidelines of the trial that justice had been served, adding, however, that he will appeal the ruling to get a full acquittal for his client.
The prosecution also appealed the ruling, and the case will be referred to the Budapest Court of Appeals.
Biszku was born in 1921 and became part of the Communist Party’s leadership in the 1950s. He served as minister of the interior and deputy prime minister after 1956.
Gergely Gulyas, deputy chair of ruling Fidesz, welcomed the ruling and said that it was “obvious” that communist leaders bore a criminal responsibility for developments in late 1956. He added, however, that compared to the crimes the sentence was much too lenient.
Radical nationalist Jobbik deputy leader Elod Novak called the sentence “outrageous” and said that announcing the ruling was “equal to a denial of communist crimes” and added that in his justification to the decision, the judge “was enthusiastically excusing” Biszku.
Novak insisted it was “shameful” that “one of the leaders of post-1956 retaliation” will not spend a single day in prison but go on enjoying the “luxury” financed from an extraordinarily high pension. He insisted that several thousand retired officials of communist times were receiving such pensions, totalling billions of forints each year.