The first applicant (A1) was a historian specialising in twentieth century Hungarian history. The second applicant (A2) was the publisher of the literary and political weekly Élet és Irodalom. On 18 May 2007, A2 published an article written by A1 which dealt with the actions of the security service against a spontaneous student peace movement (“Dialógus”) active in Pécs and elsewhere in the country in the 1980s. The article focused on the nature of reporting to the Party-state’s security system, which it suggested had been done through accidental, social or official contacts, rather than agents.
In the article, A1 referred to the role played by leaders of Pecs University in assisting the security operations, including that of Mr K. At the time of writing Mr K was a judge of Hungary’s constitutional court. At the time covered by the article, he had worked at Pecs University and as deputy secretary of the local party committee. His attitude in the Dialógus case was characterised as being that of a hardliner in comparison to other social contacts, and it was said that he had reproached a candidate in the Communist youth organisation’s elections for having been supported by Dialógus.
In its next issue of 25 May 2007, A2 published Mr K’s denial of the allegations. On 27 May 2007 A1 repeated some of the allegations in a TV interview. Mr K successfully brought proceedings against the applicants for a rectification and A2 published it on 22 February 2008.
The article was reproduced in full in a book co-authored by A1 in April 2008. In an interview published online in the same month, A1 called Mr K. “a party secretary writing mood reports”. Mr K filed a criminal complaint for libel against A1, for which A1 was acquitted.
Mr K also launched a defamation action against both applicants. The claim succeeded at first instance, the court finding for Mr K on the basis that the applicants had disseminated false and unproven statements tarnishing his reputation by maintaining that he had acted as a quasi-agent during the Communist regime, been an informant of and collaborated with the State security, reported to them and carried out their orders, and been a “hardliner” in 1983. The court also found that A1 had falsely interpreted Mr K.’s political criticism towards a candidate in the Communist youth organisation’s elections as an action motivated by the State security. Mr K was awarded damages.
On appeal the judgment was reversed and Mr K’s action dismissed. On Mr K’s petition for review, the Hungarian Supreme Court reversed the appeal court and upheld the first instance decision, holding that the article had contained defamatory and unsubstantiated statements, and that the applicants had been unable to prove the truth of them. Damages and costs were awarded.
The applicants lodged an application against the Republic of Hungary.