Demand rises for Hungarian ministers to resign over Pegasus surveillance

Budapest: The opposition in Hungary has called for ministerial resignations from Viktor Orban’s far-right government over allegations that it had selected journalists, media owners and opposition political figures as potential targets for the invasive Pegasus spyware, The Guardian reported.

“At the very least, the minister of justice has to resign,” Gergely Karacsony, the Mayor of Budapest and the most likely challenger to Orban for the Prime Minister’s post at the elections next spring, said in an interview at Budapest’s City Hall on Tuesday.

Hungarian law provides that in cases where national security is at stake, the intelligence services can order surveillance with no judicial oversight, only the signature of the Minister of Justice, The Guardian reported.

The Justice Minister, Judit Varga, has declined to comment on whether the Hungarian government uses Pegasus, but said that “every country needs such tools”, the report said.

She has not addressed what the national security justification could be for surveilling journalists, businesspeople or politicians, it added.

In an interview earlier this month with Le Monde, a Pegasus project partner, Varga had first said that it was “a provocation” when asked if she would authorise the surveillance of a journalist. Later, her office asked for the question and the answer to be removed from the interview, the report said.

Last week, the Budapest prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into unauthorised secret information gathering. Few expect this to produce real results though, with the government accused by opposition figures of ignoring the allegations.

Opposition MPs had demanded an emergency meeting of the Parliament’s National Security Committee on Monday, but the four MPs from Orban’s Fidesz party did not show up, meaning there was no quorum, The Guardian said.

“The government’s plan is not to discuss the issue,” said Peter Ungar, an opposition MP who sits on the committee, the report said.

“I don’t know what you would call this, but it’s certainly not oversight.”

He also said that Varga should resign if she cannot offer an adequate explanation about whether and why the surveillance had taken place, the report added.

At least five Hungarian journalists appeared on a leaked list reviewed by the Pegasus papers consortium, of numbers selected by NSO clients ahead of possible surveillance, including two from the investigative outlet Direkt36, a Pegasus project partner.

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