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A joint letter condemning violence against protesters by Russian police and security services was signed by 26 of the European Union's 27 member states, with only Hungary abstaining.
Szabad Európa reports that the EU would have presented its joint statement to a Thursday meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, but the lack of Hungary's signature prevented it. The United States will raise the issue at the meeting instead, the outlet reports.
The letter condemned Russian law enforcement's "disproportionate use of force" and detention of more than 3,800 individuals during Saturday's nationwide protests in support of jailed opposition politician, Alexei Navalny. The letter also condemned the more than 50 cases of obstruction of journalists' professional activities, including violence, arbitrary detention and intimidation.
The letter closes urging the Russian Federation to immediately release those who were arbitrarily detained, and reiterated calls by the EU to set Navalny free.
When asked by Euronews about the violence against protesters by Russian police, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó reiterated that Hungary supports the EU's common position on the Navalny case. As we reported last week, Hungarian officials have made no statement concerning Navalny's detention or the violent suppression of protesters.
A Russian court on Thursday denied an appeal by Navalny, ruling that he must remain in jail. More protests have been called for Sunday.
On Saturday, as tens of thousands were protesting in more than 100 cities across Russia, a small gathering of Russian citizens gathered in front of their country's embassy in Budapest to express solidarity with Navalny. Police had earlier rejected a request to hold the protest citing coronavirus concerns.
Police were waiting at the embassy when eight demonstrators arrived, and after calling additional officers, instructed the protesters to leave. The protest organizer, a Russian university student, asked whether she could remain alone in front of the embassy, but police refused and threatened her with arrest.
The police followed the group as they marched to other sites in Budapest before going home. A separate demonstration in front of the Russian embassy was also broken up by police.
Varga: tech giants must be regulated
Hungary's justice minister announced on Tuesday that she would submit a bill on regulating big tech companies in Hungary over what she called " deliberate, ideological" manipulation of social media sites.
In a Facebook post, Judit Varga said the Ministry of Justice would propose a law to Parliament this spring meant to ensure the "legal, transparent and controllable operations" of tech giants, which she believes "limit the visibility of Christian, conservative, right-wing opinions."
Varga earlier claimed she had been the victim of "shadow banning" by Facebook, which she said had altered its algorithms to deliberately limit the reach of her posts on the site.
"The power groups behind global tech companies can even decide elections," Varga alleged. "In digital imperialism, it no longer matters whether one is an average user or the democratically elected president of the world’s leading power, since it has become clear that both can be silenced at the touch of a single button."
Facebook told HVG that it had not altered Varga's Facebook profile or limited the reach of her posts.
The plan to regulate social media sites comes after government officials in Poland said they would introduce legislation to prohibit tech companies from removing posts that do not violate national laws. The proposal came after Twitter and Facebook permanently banned U.S. President Donald Trump after his supporters violently stormed the U.S. capitol on January 6.
Fidesz email address behind popular meme page
An email address belonging to the Fidesz party appears to be behind a popular Facebook page that regularly posts primitive memes attacking Hungary's opposition and in support of the ruling party.
The page, "Elég," has nearly 153,000 followers on Facebook and was created in 2011. In 2019, the page published a video taken from news site Azonnali without permission, and the site filed a criminal complaint over infringement of copyright law after it was unable to determine the page's publisher.
After a year-and-a-half long investigation, the tax authority suspended the case, saying it could not determine the identity of the individual responsible for the post. The authority did, however, find that the email address registered to the Facebook page was
firstname.lastname@example.org, an address which belongs to the Fidesz party headquarters in Budapest.
Elég plays an important role in spreading social media content centrally ordered by Fidesz, as a 444 investigation before national elections in 2018 found. One member of Fidesz's "virtual army" described how each of the party's MPs and parliamentary candidates had a "virtual colleague" responsible for managing the Facebook pages of party officials and forwarding centrally-generated content, including memes, to party activists to be spread on the platform.
These virtual colleagues were also tasked with directing activists to like Facebook posts by Fidesz members and to make derogatory comments on the posts of opposition figures. They were also trained on how to create memes, which are then distributed to Facebook pages created for sharing Fidesz's content.
One recent meme, published by Elég on Tuesday, illustrates the type of content typically published by Fidesz's centrally-directed meme network.
Health experts did not recommend approval of Sputnik V
External health experts asked to assist Hungary's pharmaceutical agency in assessing a Russian vaccine did not recommend its approval, according to reports by 444 and Telex.
At a conference last Tuesday convened by the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI) - which last week approved the Russian vaccine Sputnik V for use in Hungary - health experts warned that missing or contradictory data was contained in the documentation provided by the vaccine's developers, and requested further clarification of the missing data points.
But the OGYÉI unexpectedly approved Sputnik V the following day. The institute's director, Mátyás Szentiványi, said that all the questions the institute posed to the Sputnik V developers had been satisfactorily answered, and than an on-site inspection of the Russian factory where the vaccines are produced satisfactory results.
444 reports that several health experts on the OGYÉI vaccine committee have chosen not to continue their work there. The OGYÉI said it could not comment on reports of dissent among its experts, pointing to non-disclosure regulations relating to the work of the committee.
On Monday, the Gamaleya Center, which participated in the development of Sputnik V, amended the vaccine's instructions for use, cautioning its application in patients with malignant tumors. Russian media reported that side effects of the vaccine in cancer patients had not been fully researched, and the Gamaleya Center has expressed uncertainty over potential side effects in patients with a number of other chronic conditions.
Hungary's government has sharply criticized the European Union's vaccine procurement program, blaming Brussels for the slow delivery of doses. Last week, OGYÉI approved both Sputnik V and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, neither of which have been approved by the EU's medicines regulator. Hungary argued its domestic institutions could be trusted to approve safe and effective vaccines.
On Thursday, the prime minister's chief of staff Gergely Gulyás said at a virtual press conference that any vaccine that has been administered to more than 1 million people could be used in Hungary, appearing to downplay the need for even the OGYÉI to issue approval to vaccines before use.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has repeatedly pressured the OGYÉI to approve a vaccine produced by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, despite a lack of sufficient documentation sent to Hungarian health authorities. While the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was accompanied by some 27,000 pages of documents, authorities received around 600 pages from the developers of Sputnik V and 100 pages from Sinopharm.