‘It is not normal’: Anti-government activists fear they’ve been silenced after Hungary arrests

By Jon Swaine and Erica Werner

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Activists held anti-government protests on both sides of the Berlin border on Friday, but none of the activists involved have disappeared, a lawyer for the activists said.

American and other human rights groups fear that the intimidation has led to the arrests of eight demonstrators since March 11, when four activists were detained near the border and deported. Hungary, they say, is defying international laws on freedom of expression.

Human rights activists say that since he came to power last year, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has made open criticism of the Communist-era military service mandatory, gradually forced foreign firms out of Hungary, cut a check to his old party and sued human rights activists.

Saturday marks 10 years since Orban first met his current government, and it is now the most authoritative, single voice the country has ever had.

Both groups of protesters – 80 on one side of the border in Hungary and hundreds on the other side in Poland – asked to be released or protected from their immigration documents during protests.

“It is not normal that people, who were in the street protesting for the country’s civil rights, have to constantly fear for their lives while the asylum-seekers are in the street,” Helmi Anvar, an activist from Colorado who spent a week in Budapest fighting for his rights, said in a statement.

“Now if you talk, you will be detained, deported or even kidnapped,” he said.

Orban’s government denied Saturday that the activists have been imprisoned or ever disappeared, saying that they are not in Hungary. Instead, they are staying at a hotel outside Budapest and do not need their papers, the government said in a statement.

Although the charges against them have not been determined, the activists are accused of illegally entering a country without authority, using forged documents and falsifying travel documents, according to the government.

The situation is likely to become more volatile as the protests approach a high point on Saturday, as will the mass arrests expected on both sides of the border.

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