BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A Budapest court on Tuesday found a former senior official in the Hungarian Communist Party guilty of war crimes during the suppression of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising.
It was the first trial launched against a former top Communist in Hungary after the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a staunch anti-Communist, pushed through a law in 2011 which opened the way to dealing with crimes committed after the 1956 uprising.
More than two decades after the fall of Communism, 92-year-old Bela Biszku was charged over his role on a committee of the Communist Party that prosecutors said was involved in ordering the shootings of civilians during protests in Budapest and in the town of Salgotarjan in December 1956.
This Was in the aftermath of the crushing of the uprising by Soviet troops.
The Budapest court sentenced Biszku to 5 years and six months imprisonment.
“Bela Biszku is guilty of war crime committed as an abettor (of) homicide against more than one people,” Judge Szabolcs Toth told a courtroom packed with cameras.
The judge said Biszku was also guilty of publicly denying the crimes of the former Communist regime and possessing ammunition without authorization after 11 pieces of hunting ammunition were seized during a house search.
Biszku, who was one of Hungary’s most powerful leaders in Communist times, said in a written testimony read out in court earlier in the day that he did not take part in any decisions to disperse peaceful rallies with armed force, and denied other accusations against him as well.
Biszku, who also held the powerful position of interior minister between 1957 and 1961, sat through the 7-hour trial on Tuesday, listening attentively.
When asked whether he could face the sentence or was too tired and the ruling should be postponed he responded to the judge in a firm voice: “Let’s finish it up.”
Prosecutors say Biszku was a member of a committee of the Communist Party in 1956 that created armed militia to maintain order and carry out retaliations after the revolution was crushed. They say this party committee directly governed the leading body of the militia, the so called Military Council.
Prosecutors said Biszku had this way abetted the shooting of several people in Budapest on December 6 and in Salgotarjan on December 8, 1956.
Biszku’s lawyer, Gabor Magyar, had asked for Biszku to be acquitted, due to a lack of crimes committed and a lack of evidence.
Magyar also said the lawsuit against Biszku, more than two decades after the fall of Communism, was politically motivated.
The 1956 uprising against the Soviet-backed Hungarian government represented the first major threat to Moscow’s control of eastern Europe since the end of World War Two.
Reporting by Krisztina Than Editing by Jeremy Gaunt