“The Romanian secret service however has resorted to the methods of its predecessor, the infamous Securitate, by leaving no stone unturned in its pursuit of real or perceived reasons to strong-arm Hungarians who dare to stand up for their rights. Their aim is to generate fear, in order to intimidate those struggling for the respect of minority rights. In the case of István Beke and Zoltán Szőcs, they believed they had found proof justifying a possible reprisal, but after discovering that the evidence was too thin, began fabricating a Communist-style show trial, complete with doctored evidence.”
In the centenary year of the unilateral Declaration of Gyulafehérvár (Alba Iulia), Romanian chauvinism has once again been running amok in Transylvania, with the clear aim of intimidating the remaining Hungarian population in the country. Two young Szekler men, István Beke and Zoltán Szőcs, were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in a second instance verdict, based on fabricated charges of the Romanian secret service. They have also been denied their right of defence – one of the gravest possible violations of human rights – notwithstanding the fact that they were acquitted by the first instance court verdict for lack of evidence.
The main offence of these two young men is that they openly demanded the fulfilment of the promises enshrined in the above-mentioned declaration, dated 1 December 1918, which stipulates the following: “The National Assembly proclaims the following fundamental principles for the foundation of the new Romanian State: Full national freedom for all the co-inhabiting peoples. All of its people will be able to study, manage and be judged in their own language by individuals of their races and each person will get the right to be represented in the legal bodies and to govern the country in accordance with the number of its people.”
In case any reader is not familiar with the Declaration – which was to become an unshakeable foundation of the Romanian state – the part in quotation marks warrants particular attention, especially with regard to the current situation of the Hungarians of Transylvania, as well as the looming centenary commemorative events in coming months and the next year.
István Beke and Zoltán Szőcs are not the only ones striving for the fulfilment of the text quoted above. Mayors, politicians, NGOs and private individuals have all spoken up, albeit in different tones and styles, but always for the same aspiration: the use of their mother tongue in all walks of life from birth to death; and various forms of self-determination in the form of cultural and/or territorial autonomies, in line with European Union norms.
The Romanian secret service however has resorted to the methods of its predecessor, the infamous Securitate of the Communist dictator Ceaușescu, by leaving no stone unturned in its pursuit of real or perceived reasons to strong-arm Hungarians who dare to stand up for their rights. Their aim is to generate fear, in order to intimidate those struggling for the respect of minority rights. In the case of István Beke and Zoltán Szőcs, they believed they had found proof justifying a possible reprisal, but after discovering that the evidence was too thin, began fabricating a Communist-style show trial, complete with doctored evidence.
The entire counduct of life, including personal contacts and phone calls, of our “protagonists” was under continuous surveillance by the secret service. By doing so, the services managed to discover some irresponsible utterances, which might have been jokes, or perhaps just random outbursts of people suffering under national repression.
The fact of the matter is that the chauvinistic Romanian government decided in 2015 to force Szeklers, a large homogenous ethnic group of Hungarians, to celebrate the 1st of December, that is the symbolic date of the annexation of Transylvania by Romania, in Kézdivásárhely (Târgu Secuiesc), a town which is inhabited almost exclusively by Szeklers. This was a slap in the face to all Hungarians in Romania, in view of what we wrote earlier. It prompted one of the young men under the surveillance of the secret service to say to his friends: “They should be blown up!” They kept on making jokes about the provocative move, perhaps to defuse their powerless frustration, or perhaps to anger those eavesdropping on them, as they knew precisely that they were being monitored by the secret service.
Consequently, a search warrant of the home of István Beke was ordered, which led to the discovery of firecrackers, two fireworks, and some sparklers for cakes. Beke had purchased the items a year before, but the company shipped them only in November 2015, exactly at the time when the fateful conversation was intercepted. The young man was arrested on sight. A month later Zoltán Szőcs was detained, and charged with criminal incitement, as the prosecution needed a second individual to make a case that the apprehended pair were preparing for a terrorist act.
It goes beyond the scope this article to summarise all the details of the past three years, so I will only concentrate on some pivotal elements. The audio recording of the surveillance was doctored with the aim of underpinning the charges of terrorism. The two victims were held in pre-trial detention in Bucharest for over a year, locked together with common criminals, in inhumane conditions, in crowded cells full of bugs, and were given contaminated drinking water. With the support of the Institute for the Protection of Minority Rights, Romanian legal representatives defended Beke and Szőcs. The trial took place in Bucharest, as they were accused of committing crimes against the state.
In the first instance, they were acquitted for lack of evidence. The report of the local bomb disposal expert stated that it was impossible to transform the confiscated firecrackers into an explosive device for a terrorist attack. Still, in order to avoid paying compensation for arbitrary detention, the court decided to sentence them to prison-time corresponding to the duration of their pre-trial detention.
At the request of the secret services, the prosecution lodged an appeal against this judgment, as did the defendants, in the hope of being able to prove their innocence. On 5 July 2018, the second instance judgement was delivered, in a manner truly unprecedented in the EU. The prosecution did not present any new evidence, and the court failed to subpoena an important defence witness, an ex- secret service officer, who would have been able to substantiate the claim that the case was nothing but a show trial.
Just before the final judgment, the main allegation was reclassified to allow for the issuing of a more severe sentence: five years’ imprisonment for both suspects. The defendants’ lawyers were not given the opportunity to react to, or object to these new charges. What happened was indeed a gross violation of fundamental human rights, and a brutal rejection of European legal order and juridical culture.
István Beke and Zoltán Szőcs were carried away in handcuffs that day to the Codlea Prison near Brassó (Braşov). Once again they had to face inhuman treatment, as the prison administration refused to grant them access to vital medicine, and would not allow the Hungarian Consul General to visit them for three weeks.
Additionally, the detainees were informed that they would be transported to a maximum-security prison, located on the other side of the Carpathians, several hundred kilometres away from their families, to be locked away in solitary confinement, like mass murderers. The execution of this plan was prevented only by strong pressure from non-governmental organisations. In the end, they were transported to the prison of Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc), where they have been waiting ever since for some improvement in their circumstances.
The spectre of Nicolae Ceaușescu once again reigns over Romania, first and foremost in Transylvania. Romanian authorities are not shy to use the most disgraceful methods in persecuting Hungarians. According to Romanian law, the authorities need to present the detailed statement of reasoning within 30 days after the pronouncement of the judgment. This deadline expired on 4 August.
Our requests for this document have fallen on deaf ears. Unfortunately, according to Romanian legal experts, its issuing could last for months, or even up to a year, given that there are no legal sanctions for such an omission by the Court. This is a practice that has been followed in the case of show trials of yesteryear, and sadly appears to be still present in Romania, given that as long as the victims do not possess the statement of reasoning behind a verdict, they are unable to seek legal remedy. In this case, the legal representatives of the victims were unable to lodge an appeal before the domestic Court, because the right of defence was precluded. They are also unable to bring the case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, given the absence of the statement of reasoning.
Even so, the Institute for the Protection of Minority Rights is making efforts to draw the attention of the international community to this case, to raise awareness in international fora, and in particular to bring an action before the European Court of Human Rights. Denying the right of defence, and sabotaging the issuing of the statement of reasons is contrary to EU legal practice. Therefore, consideration could be given to lodging an application before the European Court of Justice in due time. (Denying the right of defence in this case might be the result of a peculiar kind of Romanian legal vacuum, which would not change the fact, however, that no such legal vacuum exists on the level of EU law.)
At the same time, we called on the Hungarian government to take all possible steps, vis-à-vis their Romanian counterparts, to secure the release of the victims, or at least to place them under house arrest, until all domestic remedies have been exhausted. Let us be loud and clear enough to pressure our Romanian friends to follow, and abide by the European legal practice as EU members.
In my view, the most salient current challenge with respect to Romania is to put an end to this massive campaign of intimidation targeting the Hungarian national minority. This case is no longer just about freeing István Beke and Zoltán Szőcs, but about the future of the Hungarian national community of Transylvania as a whole. The targets are no longer these two Szekler men, but all Hungarians living in Romania. It is our duty to realise this, and act accordingly.