Migrant at Poland-Belarus Border Faces a Wrenching Decision

ALONG THE EASTERN POLAND BORDER — The father had walked in circles in the rain-drenched Polish forest, cradling his sick daughter, delirious after three days with barely any food or water as temperatures dipped toward freezing. He was soaked, shivering and facing a terrible choice.

His daughter, 2, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He had wrapped her in a thin coat to protect her from the cold, and she needed urgent medical attention. The father, an Iraqi Kurd who gave his name as Karwan, had guided his family across the border from Belarus but was now in a forested area patrolled by Polish soldiers and border guards.

The choice for the father was pitiless: seeking medical help would mean a return to Belarus and the end of his family’s desperate journey to Europe.

“I can call for an ambulance for you, but border guards will come with it,” Piotr Bystrianin, a Polish activist who arrived to help, told the family, who said they wanted to request asylum in Poland. He had found them after hours of searching in the dark, alerted to their whereabouts by a locator pin sent by cellphone.

geopolitical fight between Belarus and Poland that has escalated into a man-made humanitarian disaster for Europe. At least five people who crossed illegally into Poland have died in recent weeks, some of hypothermia and exhaustion, according to Polish officials, and three nearly drowned in a Polish swamp.

Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is using migrants to punish the European Union for imposing sanctions on him for cracking down hard after a disputed election last year. The migrants — some fleeing poverty in Africa and elsewhere and others escaping war in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq — are allowed to enter Belarus, and then encouraged to cross over into Poland, a member of the European Union, with hopes of dispersing across the region.

Poland’s right-wing government, determined to keep out refugees and economic migrants, has flooded the eastern border area with security agents, while keeping out prying eyes by declaring it an emergency exclusion zone off limits to all but residents.

in an interview that it was “harmful” for the government to suggest that “every refugee is a terrorist or a sex offender,” adding: “We cannot accept that people die in front of our eyes.”

In a detailed report, Amnesty International last week documented how Polish border guards had held 32 Afghan asylum seekers in “horrendous conditions for weeks” and then pushed them back over the border into Belarus in violation of international law. In a separate report, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said that “Poland is conducting mass illegal pushbacks at its border with Belarus.”

Some officials are pushing back against the government’s policy. Poland’s deputy commissioner for human rights denounced the treatment of asylum seekers as a “scandal” that shows “the darkest possible image of Poland.”

sanctions on Belarus for forcing down a passenger jet carrying a Belarusian dissident. Mr. Lukashenko’s government initially steered the migrants toward Lithuania, but directed them south to the Polish border after Lithuania erected a fence.

Both Lithuania and Poland have reinforced their borders, laying coils of razor wire and fortifying existing barriers, borrowing anti-migrant methods pioneered by Hungary at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015.

The European Union, loath to see a repeat of that crisis and another surge of support for populist, anti-immigration politicians, has mostly supported the efforts of Poland and Lithuania to keep out people trying to enter from Belarus.

report on the briefing: “He raped a cow and wanted to get into Poland? Details on migrants at the border.”

But the picture turned out to be a still from a zoophilia pornography movie available on the internet, and involved a horse, not a cow.

Poland has taken in hundreds of asylum-seekers airlifted from Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in August but hostility to migrants sneaking across the border has been a constant feature of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. In 2015, ahead of elections that brought it to power, its leader said they carried “all sorts of parasites and protozoa.”

Fundacja Ocalenie, waited patiently for the distraught family to make their decision.

Worried that his ailing daughter and others in the group might not survive, Karwan decided it would be best to seek medical help. Two ambulances arrived and, as he had been warned, border guards came, too.

Four family members were taken to the hospital, and six others to the border to be forced back into Belarus. Mr. Bystrianin and a fellow activist, Dorota Nowok, in the area to provide food and clothing, were fined for entering a restricted zone.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anatol Magdziarz from Warsaw.

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German Officer Goes on Trial, Accused of Plotting Far-Right Terrorism

FRANKFURT — One of postwar Germany’s most spectacular terrorism trials opened Thursday, with federal prosecutors laying out their case against a military officer who they said had been motivated by a “hardened far-right extremist mind-set” to plot political murder in the hope of bringing down the country’s democratic system.

The case of First Lieutenant Franco A., whose surname is abbreviated in keeping with German privacy laws, shocked Germany when he was arrested four years ago and has since pushed the country to confront a creeping threat of infiltration in the military and the police by far-right extremists.

Franco A. was caught in 2017 trying to collect a loaded gun he had hidden in an airport bathroom. His fingerprints later revealed that he had a second — fake — identity as a Syrian refugee, setting off alarm bells and an investigation that would span three countries and multiple intelligence agencies. Prosecutors have accused him of planning terrorist attacks using that identity with the intention of stoking growing fears over immigration in Germany and triggering a national crisis.

The case has become the latest warning for a country that has spent decades atoning for its Nazi past but that also has a track record of turning a blind eye to far-right extremism and terrorism.

far more extensive than they had imagined.

One group, run by a former soldier and police sniper in northern Germany, hoarded weapons, kept enemy lists and ordered body bags, and is the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation. Another, run by a special-forces soldier code-named Hannibal, put the spotlight on the KSK, Germany’s most elite force. Last year, after explosives and SS memorabilia were found on the property of a sergeant major, an entire KSK unit was disbanded by the defense minister.

In all these cases the authorities had failed to identify extremists inside the institutions, sometimes for years. Franco A. is no exception. He received glowing reports from superiors throughout his military career even as he wrote and publicly spoke about his far-right views.

In 2014, after submitting a Master’s thesis riddled with far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, he was asked to write another one. But he was never reported even though a military historian who had been asked to assess the thesis called it a “a radical nationalist, racist appeal.”

Ms. Weingast, the prosecutor, described Franco A.’s views as stemming from a “longstanding hardened far-right extremist mind-set” that was particularly hostile to Jews. Franco A., she said, was convinced that Zionists were waging a “race war” that would lead to the extinction of the German race. He considered Germany to be under occupation by the United States.

All this had motivated him to plan “a violent attack on life” that would “create a climate of fear,” Ms. Weingast told the court.

“This was the intention of the accused,” she said.

According to the indictment, Franco A. had gone beyond abstract plotting and in July 2016 had traveled to Berlin to visit the workplace of one of his alleged targets, Ms. Kahane, the Jewish activist. He drew a sketch of the location of her office and took several pictures of the license plates of cars in the parking garage.

Franco A.’s lawyer, Mr. Fricke-Schmitt, dismissed any suggestion that his client had a far-right mind-set. “He is interested in rowing,” he said. “He listens to punk music.”

But Franco A. kept a record of his far-right ideas in a diary and a series of audio memos on his phone. The New York Times has a transcript of these audio memos.

In them he praises Adolf Hitler, indulges in global Jewish conspiracies, argues that immigration has destroyed Germany’s ethnic purity, hails Russian President Vladimir V. Putin as a role model and advocates destroying the state.

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Spain Sends Troops to African Enclave After Migrant Crossings Jump

Spain deployed troops, military trucks and helicopters in its North African enclave of Ceuta on Tuesday after thousands of people crossed over from Morocco, one of the largest movements of migrants reported in the area in recent years.

More than 6,000 migrants, including 1,500 minors, arrived on the beaches of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday, mostly swimming or aboard inflatable boats, according to the Spanish authorities, who said that Spain had already sent back 2,700 people.

The sudden arrival of thousands of people in Ceuta — more than had attempted the crossing in all the rest of the year so far — comes amid a deepening diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco over the hospitalization in Spain of the leader of a rebel group that has fought for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.

Videos broadcast on Spanish television on Tuesday appeared to show Moroccan border guards opening fences to the Spanish enclave. While Morocco has warned of “consequences” for harboring the rebel leader, it was not immediately clear if the spike in migration was linked to the diplomatic dispute.

International Organization for Migration with the coronavirus pandemic having likely forced more migrants to migrate through that route.

“Many of those trying to reach the Canary Islands came from Senegal and were forced to leave because of the impact of the pandemic on fishing in particular,” said Julia Black, a project officer at the organization’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center and the report’s author.

Polisario Front, a separatist movement that has been fighting for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco.

Moroccan officials have reacted with anger over the news that the leader, Brahim Ghali, had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Spain under an alias. The Moroccan foreign ministry said this month that the authorities would “draw all consequences” from Spain’s “premeditated” decision to treat Mr. Ghali.

Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, said in a radio interview on Monday that Mr. Ghali’s hospitalization was a humanitarian response to “a person who was in a very, very fragile health situation.”

She added that Moroccan officials had told their Spanish counterparts that the sudden rise in migrant crossings was not the result of a disagreement over the hospitalization.

Estrella Galán, the director general of CEAR, a Spanish group that helps asylum seekers and refugees, said Morocco was using migration as leverage against Spain.

But she added that Morocco’s move was the consequence of the European Union’s decision after the refugee crisis of 2015 to rely on greater control of migration by countries outside the bloc.

“This is what happens when we convert other countries into gendarmes of our own borders,” Ms. Galán said.

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With Official Housing Scant, French People Open Their Homes to Migrants

PARIS — Walking home one night several years ago in a suburb of Paris, Raphaël Marre was horrified to see a group of migrants and asylum seekers sleeping on the street outside his home.

Why wasn’t the government housing them? he wondered. After witnessing the same scene for several weeks, he and his wife decided to do it themselves, signing up with a nonprofit that links migrants with people in the Paris region willing to open up their homes for a few nights.

“That was a triggering moment,” Mr. Marre said. “We thought, ‘This can’t be happening, we have to do something.’”

Five years after a migrant crisis that convulsed Europe, France is still struggling to accommodate the thousands of people who have applied for asylum in France. And Mr. Marre is still welcoming them into his home.

France, and much of Europe, was facing a large influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, driven from their homes by war and economic deprivation.

introduced an initiative that would create 4,500 new spaces in 2021. However, it is “still far from enough to meet the needs,” said Ms. Le Coz.

France’s struggle to accommodate migrants and asylum seekers has become particularly conspicuous in the streets of the Paris region. In what has become a seemingly never-ending cycle, the police regularly clear out hundreds of migrants and raze their tents and shacks, often offering them no alternative but to move somewhere else.

Utopia 56 relies on a network of volunteers, private citizens, parishes and private companies that have sheltered nearly 3,000 people during the pandemic.

Xavier Lachaume, 31, and his wife have hosted eight families in their apartment in Saint-Denis, a northern Paris suburb, since January. For now, visitors stay in their spare bedroom for a couple of nights, which they plan to turn into a room for a baby they expect in coming months.

82,000 asylum applications in 2020, according to Eurostat, Europe’s statistics agency. First-time applicants declined more than 40 percent from 2019, a drop partly attributed to the coronavirus. But Mr. Manzi predicts another surge once the pandemic passes.

President Emmanuel Macron told Brut, an online news site, in December that “the slowness of our procedures means that” asylum seekers “can indeed find themselves for weeks and months” without proper accommodation.

right-wing politicians and conservative news media increasingly drawing a link between illegal migration and terrorism. Mr. Macron’s government has adopted a tougher approach on immigration, hoping that lures voters away from the far right.

Mr. Sanogo said he had arrived in France in 2016 after fleeing Ivory Coast, citing continuing turmoil stemming from the 2011 civil war that tore apart the country, and has lived in a series of workers’ hostels, making money off the books as a construction worker. His wife and their 9-year-old daughter joined him last month, but they were not allowed to stay in his hostel, forcing them to sleep in the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris.

Mr. Sanogo, 44, said his asylum application when he arrived in 2016 had been rejected because he did not make the request in Italy, where he first arrived in Europe, as he was supposed to do under E.U. rules. But he said he had an appointment with a lawyer to make a new application in France, this time with his family.

As he boarded the Metro with his family to go to their hosts, Mr. Sanogo recounted how he had made his away from Ivory Coast to Libya, were he said he was beaten up and robbed by traffickers, and eventually made it to Italy after a perilous boat trip across the Mediterranean.

Mr. Sanogo seemed grateful for Mr. Marre’s hospitality, but mindful that it was only for a night, said he had hidden a bag full of clothes and sheets on the outskirts of Paris.

“If we have to sleep outside,” he said.

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The Refugee Who Fought Germany’s Hard Right

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — The country’s largest-circulation tabloid called him the “scandal asylum seeker” and accused him (falsely) of entering the country illegally. People hacked his social media accounts and broadcast his location and personal information. A far-right political leader decried him as the “ringleader” of a violent protest, while another even suggested people like him would be a good reason to bring back the death penalty in Germany.

Alassa Mfouapon is hardly the first refugee to become sensationalist fodder for tabloids or a convenient scapegoat for far-right, anti-immigration politicians. In the five years since a major wave of refugees arrived in Germany, such portrayals have become commonplace.

But the 31-year-old from Cameroon is the first to take them to court for those depictions — and win.

In the process, he has emerged as an ideological lightning rod in the debate over refugee politics in Germany, his journey highlighting the disconnect between the country’s image on refugee issues and the reality for many of those who seek asylum here.

German court ruled that aspects of the police’s handling of the Ellwangen raid were illegal. The court did not rule entirely in his favor — it said, for example, that his 2018 deportation to Italy was legal, and that people in refugee facilities like Ellwangen cannot expect the same privacy rights as ordinary citizens. But his case has spurred a re-examination of the treatment of the Ellwangen incident in the German news media, drawing more attention to the voices of the refugees involved.

Cases like Mr. Mfouapon’s remain rare, because few refugees want to stand up to the state for fear they will become targets, just as Mr. Mfouapon has.

Mr. Mfouapon returned to Germany in 2019. He and his wife split up, unable to move past the loss of their son. He has added German to his other language skills and, with the help of some activists involved in his petition, applied for and started a training program in media production last year.

He has also launched a refugee advocacy organization to continue drawing awareness to these issues. Speaking out about his experiences is important to him personally, but is also a way to cope with the trauma and loss he has faced.

“All these events in my life, all these things that were happening before — if you want to deal with them, the only way you can do it is to try to go forward,” he said. “To say, ‘I will be fighting for the people who are not yet in this situation, so that what’s happening will not happen to anyone else.’”

He believes Germany needs to re-examine its asylum policy, and is pushing for changes to the Dublin rule. With worsening conditions in his home country and many others, Mr. Mfouapon said, migration issues will only intensify in coming years — and governments like Germany’s need to be ready with better solutions.

“They are trying to stop it, they are not trying to solve it,” he said. “And trying to stop something that’s exploded already — you can’t.”


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More Than 100 Migrants Are Feared Dead as Boat Capsizes in Mediterranean

CAIRO — More than 100 migrants heading for Europe are feared dead in a shipwreck off Libya, independent rescue groups have said, in the latest loss of life as attempts to cross the Mediterranean increase during the warmer months.

The Libyan Coast Guard searched for the boat but could not find it because of limited resources, an official with the service said.

The humanitarian group SOS Méditerranée, which operates the rescue vessel Ocean Viking, said late Thursday that the capsized rubber boat, which was initially carrying around 130 people, had been spotted in the Mediterranean, northeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The vessel did not find any survivors, but aid workers could see at least 10 bodies near the wreck.

“We think of the lives that have been lost and of the families who might never have certainty as to what happened to their loved ones,” the group said in a statement.

who is responsible for saving those in peril at sea.

SOS Méditerranée said it expected that those missing had died, adding to a toll of 350 people who have drowned in the sea so far this year. It accused governments of failing to provide search and rescue operations.

In the years since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed Libya’s longtime leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the war-torn country has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families onto ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

Eugenio Ambrosi, chief of staff for the International Organization for Migration, said in a tweet, “These are the human consequences of policies which fail to uphold international law and the most basic of humanitarian imperatives.”

AlarmPhone, which provides a crisis hotline for migrants in distress in the Mediterranean, said it had been in contact with the distressed boat for nearly 10 hours before it capsized.

dangerous sea crossings. Rights groups, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuses.

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After a Tragedy at Sea, a Wrecked Ship Becomes a Powerful Symbol in Italy

ROME — To most eyes, the scruffy, sun-faded ship that left Venice for Sicily last week might have looked like a junkyard-ready wreck.

Instead, as the ship embarked upon what may be its final voyage, via barge and tugboat, and arrived in Sicily on Tuesday, others were hoping it would become a monument to the devastating toll exacted by the trafficking of people across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe by unscrupulous operators.

The ship, the relic of the deadliest wreck in the Mediterranean in living memory, is a symbol of contemporary migration in Europe that has become part of its cultural heritage, said Maria Chiara Di Trapani, an independent curator working on future projects for the vessel.

On April 18, 2015, the unnamed ship — originally built as a fishing vessel for a crew of around 15 — capsized off the coast of Libya, becoming the watery grave for the more than 1,000 people, many from Mali, Mauritius and the Horn of Africa, crammed onboard. Only 28 passengers survived.

Missing Migrants Project run by the International Organization for Migration has recorded a minimum of 12,521 deaths or disappearances during migration across the Central Mediterranean route.

The ship sank after colliding with a Portuguese freighter that had come to its assistance. An analysis of the shipwreck has been treated by migration activists as a case study on the perils of inexpert assistance at sea. The ship was later used as evidence in a case against the Tunisian captain who piloted the ship and in 2018 was convicted of human trafficking.

“The story of the boat is very complex, involving many people,” said Enzo Parisi, the spokesman for the Comitato 18 Aprile, a citizens’ group in Augusta, Sicily, that wants the boat to become a monument, “a testimony to tragedies at sea.”

In June 2016, the Italian government decided to raise the wreck 1,200 feet from the bottom of the sea to identify the victims. The ship was taken to a naval base in Augusta, and the victims were extracted.

laboratory at the University of Milan for the laborious task of cataloging and possible identification.

The ship’s destiny, at that point, was to head to the scrap yard, like hundreds of ships that have been seized by Italian authorities.

But the wreck’s symbolic power had become apparent. In 2019, supported by the Comitato 18 Aprile, Augusta’s municipal council was granted custody of the ship. The region lobbied to have it declared a monument of cultural interest and the committee came up with proposals for a memorial that would have the ship as the centerpiece.

“As a seaport, Augusta has always been welcoming,” said Giuseppe Di Mare, the mayor of the Sicilian city, which is a first landing spot for many migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, before they are processed and shunted off to other Italian cities. Because of the coronavirus, the sea rescues now include an interim stop on quarantine ships, and currently there are two such ships in Augusta’s harbor.

“Barca Nostra,” or “Our Ship” in Italian, the vessel was presented at the art exhibit as a “monument to contemporary migration” and restrictions on personal freedoms.

2019 documentary about the disaster and the attempts to identify the victims, Ms. Mirto counted headstones in a cemetery that read: “Unknown Immigrant Deceased in the Strait of Sicily on 18.4.2015.”

The project to identify victims continues, sponsored by Italy’s special commissioner for missing persons. Dr. Cattaneo, the forensic pathologist who is responsible for the university laboratory in Milan, said that funding shortages had hampered the work, and that, so far, only six victims had been identified using their methodology, which involves comparing the DNA extracted from the victims to the DNA of family members, as well as anthropological and dental traits.

She is hopeful that progress will be made this year, as the university is now working with other academic institutions, as well as Italian law enforcement authorities, but she cautioned that the condition in which researchers had found the bodies after a year under water made everything “extremely complex.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross and other national affiliates have also been involved in identifying the victims of the tragedy. They have adopted a different, complementary, approach, attempting to draft a list of the passengers onboard by cross-referencing the accounts of survivors, witnesses, relatives, friends, as well as from the objects that were recovered from the ship. Currently, they are calling some of the nearly 1,500 phone numbers — which have been tracked to 56 countries — that were found in the wreckage in hopes of gleaning new clues.

have died in the first months of 2021.

The ship will now undergo urgent maintenance, after two years exposed to a north Italian climate.

The city of Augusta has envisioned placing the ship in what the authorities describe as a “Garden of Memory,” that “will have to be in the open, because that boat gives a sense of the sea, the air, the skies. To enclose it in a building would clash with its’ story,” said Mr. Di Mare, the mayor.

“Certainly, the ship has attained an international dimension and we want this garden to become a place of reflection for the world, so that all people can ponder,” he said.

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In Orban’s Hungary, Some ‘Migrants’ Are Treated With Reverence

BUDAPEST — Ever since migrants from the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa began trickling over Hungary’s borders in early 2015, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made a name for himself as a firebrand populist by demonizing them.

But there are limits to disparaging migrants in Mr. Orban’s Hungary.

A prominent journalist discovered that last week when Hungary’s Supreme Court ruled that he had offended the dignity of the nation by describing nomadic Magyar tribesmen known for their raids across Europe a millennium ago as “stinking” migrants. The Magyars settled in the region that has become modern Hungary, and have long been a touchstone of Hungarian nationalism.

The reference to the Magyars was in a 2018 opinion piece by Arpad W. Tota published by HVG, a current affairs weekly that is one of the few remaining independent online and print news sources in Hungary. In the article, Mr. Tota lambasted Hungarian prosecutors for not pursuing an alleged case of corruption involving European Union-funded projects and a member of Mr. Orban’s family. Hungarian law enforcement officials said they found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The court ordered the removal of the text and a public apology from HVG and awarded damages of around $1,000 to two private citizens who initiated the lawsuit.

Hungarians Don’t Steal, They Go on Adventures,” playing on the word in Hungarian for “adventures,” which can also imply the act of raiding.

Mr. Tota said he wanted to make the point that Hungary no longer had the rule of law under Mr. Orban, who has an iron grip on the country’s politics and has steadily eroded the independence of the justice system. That meant, he said, that liberal Europe needed to be firm in addressing corruption in Hungary.

To make his point, he used the allegory of what he referred to as the “stinking Magyar migrants,” or “bandits,” who were eventually confronted and defeated by German forces at the Battle of Lechfeld in A.D. 955. It was there, Mr. Tota said in the article, that European “knights with broadswords” dismissed the Magyars’ “rules of the game and illiberal worldview.”

Upholding a lower court’s decision that the article had caused injury to the dignity of the Hungarian nation, the high court took issue with the words “stinking” and “Magyar bandits,” also making note of the pejorative connotation carried by the word “migrants.”

Tamas Gaudi-Nagy, a former far-right politician, and the attorney representing the two plaintiffs in the case, Zoltan Degi and Laszlo Racz Szabo, said in a TV interview on Friday that such “hurtful, insulting, and unacceptable” language had injured the dignity of his clients as members of the Hungarian nation, because national consciousness was so closely tied to the legacy of the Magyar tribes.

Mr. Tota disagreed, saying that the court either “became very lost in the labyrinth of literary comprehension,” or “they had the ruling before they came up with the reasoning.”

The lawsuit against Mr. Tota was a landmark case that built on two legal provisions adopted during Mr. Orban’s tenure that give legal recourse to Hungarians who feel their national identity has come under assault.

Petra Bard, a professor and researcher of E.U. law at Central European University in Budapest and Vienna, said that the law set a dangerous precedent that could be broadly applied to journalists whose writings on politics were deemed provocative.

“There is certainly a danger of it having a chilling effect,” Professor Bard said.

Kata Nehez-Posony, HVG’s lawyer, said the publisher was still deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Mr. Tota also said that a recent initiative by the European Union, of which Hungary is a member, to tie funding from the bloc to the rule of law was a welcome one.

“It’s not knights with broadswords, but here we definitely see some pressure,” he said. Asked if he knew the two plaintiffs who initiated the lawsuit, Mr. Tota said he didn’t. “They’re probably adventurous Magyars,” he added.

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