SWAN statement on the sentencing of Norbert Ferencz/Pumukli in Budapest, Friday 4th of November 2011 and a call for international solidarity and action with the ‘City is for all’ initiative.

by Rea Maglajlic, SWAN Steering Committee Member

At his trial held in Budapest on Friday 4th November 2011 Norbert Ferencz, known among his peers as Pumukli, received the lightest possible sentence - three years probation - for charges of inticement against the public peace and a call for general dissent. The harshest sentence would have been up to three years inprisonment. His “crime” was to participate in a demonstration aimed specifically against the Budapest municipal ordinance that classified taking things from rubbish bins (e.g. ‘dumpster diving’) as a misdemeanour, during which he called the participants to peacefully protest against this new law, but also to challenge it as it criminalises the most marginalised and impoverished citizens of Budapest that resort to dumpster diving to survive.

Pumukli's rightful defence was that he was simply following the Hungarian social work Code of Ethics, which stipulates that social workers have a responsibility, right and a duty to call to attention of decision makers and general public the emergence of poverty and any obstruction of the alleviation thereof. The judge did consider this as a mitigating circumstance in the case. If during his three year probation Pumukli is not charged and found guilty with any other offense, his probation will expire and not be recorded on his ‘criminal file’. The fact Norbert wasn't imprisoned or fined was a victory and a reflection of the campaign that was launched in his defence within Hungary and internationally (which SWAN is proud to have been involved with). It shows the importance of campaigning against injustices in the streets and in the courts.

But while the probationary sentence was received with cheers and applause from the public that turned out in large numbers at the courtroom, it can also be interpreted as stopping Pumukli to further enact the same Code of Ethics. Pumukli is a radical social worker and member of the ‘City is for All’ grassroots initiative for the right to housing in Hungary and against the criminalisation of homeless people which continues and was not part of the today’s trial.

In our General Statement, SWAN called for all charges against Pumukli to be dropped. Social workers should not be muzzled by the state - through either charging or probationary sentences for their actions - when protesting against grave injustices in any society. Pumukli is an example to our peers around the world, standing against the oppression in a peaceful manner. His and actions of his peers embody what our profession needs to do to stand up for the rights of the marginalised and the oppressed who can, as Hungarian example shows, even be criminalised because they are living in poverty and without the right to safe and affordable housing. While many will perceive this sentence as a victory, it is still a sentence – all charges against Pumukli should be dropped. Radical social work is not to be muzzled and silenced.

You can see a brief video from the court, including footage of the ‘crime’ for which Pumukli was charged here: http://index.hu/video/2011/11/04/kukaper/

SWAN aims to support all activities by Pumukli and the ‘City is for all’ initiative, fighting against the repression and criminalisation of the homeless that intensified just under a year ago. Here is a summary of the recent call for international solidarity and action with the ‘City is for all’ initiative:

"We call on our Friends, to demonstrate your solidarity with Hungarian homeless people by organizing events (discussions, demonstrations, film screenings etc.) that address the criminalization of homelessness. The solidarity event can address your local or national context while reacting to developments in Hungary or organized specifically in solidarity with Hungarian homeless people. If you are up to such an undertaking, please let us know about it, document the event in any form (photo, video, video message, written report etc.) and send it to us (‘City is for all’) by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., so that we can publish it on our blog and demonstrate international support for our campaign.

We have also prepared an online petition against the planned amendment of the Act on breaches of law that would imprison homeless people. Please sign it either on behalf of your organization or as an individual and spread the word:
http://avm.homenet.org/

If you have any question regarding the events to be organized, the documentation, or the campaign itself, please feel free to contact Mariann Dósa, the coordinator of our international campaign via email or telephone: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +44-07-5543-87634, skype: mariann.dosa."

SWAN calls on all its members to support this initiative by organising local events and inviting peers across UK and around the world to do the same.

Here is some further information about the criminalisation of homeless people in Hungary and ‘City is for All’ initiative:

• Brief elaboration of the criminalisation of homeless people can be found in the SWAN statement to the Budapest Court in support for Mr. Ferencz (http://www.socialworkfuture.org/index.php/articles-and-analysis/news/170-defend-norbert).

• English content on the ‘City is for All’ blog
About us: http://avarosmindenkie.blog.hu/2009/01/01/english_18
More posts: http://avarosmindenkie.blog.hu/tags/english

• International press about the criminalization of homelessness in Hungary:

- Habitants - Demonstration against the criminalization of homelessness
http://www.habitants.org/content/keyword/The%20City%20is%20for%20All
- Xpatloop - Crackdown in the 8th district of Budapest
http://www.xpatloop.com/news/budapest_mayors_campaign_against_the_homeless_-_by_the_contrarian_hungarian
- Cabooddle - destruction of shacks in the 14th district of Budapest
http://www.caboodle.hu/nc/news/news_archive/single_page/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=9475
- Budapest Times - destruction of shacks in the 14th district of Budapest
http://www.budapesttimes.hu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20714&Itemid=220

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