Leader Quits Over Pardon in Child Sexual Abuse Case

Katalin Novák, an Orbán ally, was Hungary's first female president
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 10, 2024 1:20 PM CST
Leader Quits Over Pardon in Child Sexual Abuse Case
A general view of Sandor Palace, office of the Hungarian president in Budapest, on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)

Hungary's president has resigned amid public outcry over a pardon she granted to an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case, a decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government. Katalin Novák, 46, announced Saturday in a televised message that she's stepping down from the presidency, an office she has held since 2022, the AP reports. Her decision came after more than a week of outrage after it was revealed that she issued a presidential pardon in April 2023 to a man convicted of hiding a string of child sexual abuses in a state-run children's home.

"I issued a pardon that caused bewilderment and unrest for many people," Novák said on Saturday. "I made a mistake." It's a rare piece of political turmoil for Hungary's nationalist governing party Fidesz, which has ruled with a constitutional majority since 2010. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Fidesz has been accused of dismantling democratic institutions and rigging the electoral system and media in its favor. Novák, an Orbán ally, previously served as Hungary's minister for families. She has advocated for traditional family values and the protection of children.

She was Hungary's first female president and the youngest person to ever hold the office. The man she pardoned was sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2018 for pressuring victims to retract their claims of sexual abuse by the home's director, who was sentenced to eight years for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016. "Based on the request for clemency and the information available, I decided in April last year in favor of clemency in the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him," Novák said Saturday, per the AP. "I made a mistake, because the decision to pardon and the lack of justification were apt to raise doubts about zero tolerance for pedophilia. But here, there is not and nor can there be any doubt."

(More Hungary stories.)

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