Hungary to build more prisons to tackle overcrowding, halt inmates' lawsuits

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will begin an ambitious prison-building program in an attempt to stem a tide of costly lawsuits by inmates complaining of overcrowding and inhumane conditions, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban holds an international news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo

Orban accused “business-savvy lawyers” of exploiting the conditions to launch 12,000 lawsuits against the Hungarian state for breaking EU prison standards, leading to penalties of 10 billion forints ($33 million) in total.

“I have never seen such prison business in my life,” he told state radio MR1. “It’s mind-blowing.”

Orban, who has often come under fire from the European Union and rights groups over his perceived erosion of the rule of law since he took power in 2010, announced plans for more prisons to reduce the prison overcrowding and disarm “malignant lawyers”.

Last week, Orban drew criticism from top lawyers for suggesting his government would disobey court orders to pay compensation over the inhumane treatment of prisoners. The government later signaled it would pay the fines.

Orban also raised eyebrows by refusing to pay a fine of 100 million forints to a Roma community in Gyongyospata, eastern Hungary, which had sued the state because of illegal segregation in the local school.

On Friday, Orban said the school’s move to separate Roma students had been an attempt to stem an exodus of students caused by what he said was the unruly and often violent behavior of the local Roma minority.

“Non-Roma in Gyongyospata began to feel that they had to back down and apologize, despite being the majority,” Orban said. “They feel like they are in a hostile environment in their own homeland.”

Orban’s populist rhetoric on ethnic minorities, the rule of law and civic liberties led the European People’s Party, the EU’s conservative umbrella group, to agree on Wednesday to extend his Fidesz Party’s suspension from the group.

Orban has several times threatened to leave the EPP, saying it has lost touch with conservative voters and demanding a return to a tougher stance on issues like migration and cultural identity.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones