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Thousands of Hungarians march for media freedom after website muzzled

Budapest, HungaryThousands of Hungarians marched towards Prime Minister Viktor Orban's office on Friday, July 24 in protest at perceived government attacks on media freedoms, as anger built at the sacking of the chief editor of the country's leading independent news website.

Earlier in the day, three editors at and more than 80 journalists - almost its entire staff - resigned over what they called an "open attempt to exert pressure" on the site after its owner refused to reinstate chief editor Szabolcs Dull. Dull's dismissal has increased concern that Orban's nationalist government, in power for over a decade, is intensifying efforts to muzzle critical voices.

"We are not necessarily here because we liked Index but we are now at a point where accessing information is jeopardised," said protester Istvan, 30, among the large crowd that set out from Index's headquarters to Orban's office in Buda Castle. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his government was facing "untrue accusations" with respect to threats to media freedoms. "How would the state intervene in the decisions of a media which is privately owned?," he told a news conference on Thursday, July 23 during a visit to Portugal. 
On Wednesday, July 22 Laszlo Bodolai, chief of the foundation that owns the website's publisher, Zrt., said Dull had been unable to control internal newsroom tensions, leading to disarray and a drop in revenue as advertisers stayed away. Dull said he believed he was sacked because of columns he wrote about attempts to exert outside influence and the independence barometer warning.