Hungary says 'does not plan' to introduce death penalty, after PM's call riles EU

BUDAPEST (AFP) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban “does not plan to introduce the death penalty,” his chief of staff Janos Lazar said Thursday, after strong EU criticism of Orban’s call for debate on its reintroduction.

Orban informed European Parliament (EP) president Martin Schulz by telephone that the government would debate the issue, but “the prime minister does not plan to introduce it in the country,” Lazar said.

Hungary will “keep to EU laws", he added.

The EP confirmed in a statement that Orban had “assured the President that the Hungarian government will respect and honour all European treaties and legislation”.

The controversy first erupted on Tuesday when Orban pushed for a debate on bringing back capital punishment, saying existing penalties in Hungary were too soft.

Orban’s comments immediately sparked a sharp response after a series of spats with Brussels over his hardline stance on human rights and civil society norms – key values for the European Union.

Earlier, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker had warned Orban that he faced a “fight” if he reintroduced the death penalty.

“Mr Orban should immediately make clear that this is not his intention and would it be his intention, it would be a fight,” Juncker told a press conference, stressing that the EU charter forbids the death penalty in the 28-nation bloc.

Orban’s junior coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, had also distanced themselves from his comments, saying they opposed the death penalty.

Hungary abolished capital punishment after the end of communism in 1990, fulfilling a key condition for membership of the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

Orban’s call for a debate on capital punishment was seen as a further provocation after remarks last week in which he called the EU’s immigration policy “stupid", just after hundreds of migrants seeking to get to Europe drowned in the Mediterranean.

The right-wing Orban, who has been in power for five years, has been losing ground recently to the extreme-right Jobbik party which supports the death penalty and is strongly anti-immigration.