AP Wins Libel Trial Against Romanian Bishop

Laszlo Tokes, who played a crucial role in the 1989 revolution that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.  Tokes,  an ethnic Hungarian who received international awards, filed suit after AP correspondent Alison Mutler reported that the Bishop worked for the Securitate,  the feared Communist secret service, BosNewsLife learned Wednesday November 7.

In an earlier interview with an BosNewsLife-reporter,  Tokes admitted he was approached by the Securitate,  but the Bishop denied he was very active for the organization.  "I was forced to sign documents,  but never volunteered to work for them," he said.

HARMFUL

However Tokes apparently objected to what he said were suggestions in the AP-story of June 1998 that his actions were harmful to others. In March, a lower court acquitted Mutler and the AP of libel but ordered the equivalent of $22,000 to be paid to Tokes as moral damages,  the news agency reported.

The ruling was criticized by Western observers and the Romanian media, who feared it could lead to a restriction of press freedoms, AP said.  However in a final ruling, the Bucharest Tribunal acquitted correspondent Alison Mutler and the news agency on charges of libel. It is believed to be the first ever such case against a foreign news organization in Romania,  since the collapse of Communism.

LEGAL SET-BACK

Former Romanian President Emil Constantinescu seems to share the court's opinion.  "I have personally asked (Bishop) Tokes to publicly admit his past. He knows more than he wants to share," Constantinescu told an BosNewsLife-journalist in an interview.

It was not immediately what effect the legal set-back would have on the activities of Tokes,  regarded by many as an important voice of Romania's estimated two million ethnic Hungarians,  who he says still suffer under religious and other discrimination.

CHURCH PROPERTIES

The Bishop told BosNewsLife last month that the recently re-elected former Communists make it difficult to overcome the past. "Our church properties confiscated in 1948,  about 1300 buildings from the four Hungarian historical denominations, were not given back in eleven years. Now the postponing of their return is going on, although the European Union and the Council of Europe mention the restitution of church properties in documents," he said.

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