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Hungary's president resigns over child sex abuse pardon

Hungary's conservative president has resigned amid public outcry over a pardon she granted to a man convicted as an accomplice in a child sexual abuse case, a decision that unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for the long-serving nationalist government.

Katalin Novak
Hungarian President Katalin Novak who resigned after she pardoned a man in a child sex abuse case. (AP PHOTO)

Katalin Novák, 46, announced in a televised message on Saturday that she would step down from the presidency, an office she has held since 2022.

Her decision came after more than a week of public 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."

Novák's resignation came as 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, a key Orbán ally and a former vice president of Fidesz, served as Hungary's minister for families until her appointment to the presidency. She has been outspoken in advocating for traditional family values and the protection of children.

She was the first female president in Hungary's history, and the youngest person to ever hold the office.

But her term came to an end after she pardoned a man sentenced to more than three years in prison in 2018 for pressuring victims to retract their claims of sexual abuse by the institution'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 favour of clemency in the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him," Novák said Saturday.

"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."

Also implicated in the pardon was Judit Varga, another key Fidesz figure who endorsed the pardon as Hungary's then minister of justice. Varga was expected to lead the list of European Parliament candidates from Fidesz when elections are held this summer.

But in a Facebook post on Saturday, Varga announced that she would take political responsibility for endorsing the pardon, and "retire from public life, resigning my seat as a member of parliament and also as leader of the EP list."