Norbert is a member of the ڪ Szeml鬥t group of radical social workers and is facing trial for incitement, a felony punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment in Hungary. Norbert’s crime was to participate in a demonstration aimed specifically against the municipal ordinance that classified ‘dumpster diving’ (taking food from rubbish bins) a misdemeanor. He stood alongside the homeless and spoke out against their criminalisation. The 8th District Prosecution interpreted this act as incitement against the public peace and a call for general dissent.
Norbert’s trial is due to start on 4 November.
SWAN Statement to Hungarian Court in Support of Norbert Ferencz
SWAN has now released the following statement of support which has been sent to Norbert and his legal team and will be read out at the court in Budapest on 4 November:
The Social Work Action Network (SWAN) is composed of social work practitioners, academics, students and service users. We have a range of supporters in social work workplaces, within the main union, amongst service user and carer groups and within the academy. We also have contacts with similar groups in Ireland, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, S. Africa, US, Greece and Cyprus. Norbert Ferencz is our Hungarian colleague and a social work peer.
We are outraged that our social work colleague Norbert Ferencz has been charged with incitement, a felony punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment in Hungary, for speaking out against a new law that aims to criminalise rough sleeping and homelessness. Norbert’s “crime” was to participate in a demonstration aimed specifically against the Budapest municipal ordinance that classified ‘dumpster diving’ (taking food from rubbish bins) as a misdemeanour. He stood alongside service users and spoke out against their criminalisation. The 8th District Prosecution in Budapest interpreted this act as incitement against the public peace and a call for general dissent.
As a social worker, Norbert was following the International Federation of Social Work’s definition of social work as an activist occupation that confronts social injustices. The Hungarian Code of Ethics for Social Workers also makes it clear that practitioners have a duty and a responsibility to inform the public of the growth of poverty and inequality and the state’s responsibility to address these problems.
We demand that all charges against Mr. Norbert Ferencz are dropped, as he was merely following his professional Code of Ethics. The Code states that “social workers [should] facilitate change through their activities and professional stance” (Point 11) and that “it is the social workers responsibility, as well as a right and duty of the undersigned professional organizations, to call the attention of decision makers and the general public to their respective responsibility for the emergence of poverty and suffering as well as for their obstruction of the alleviation thereof” (Point 10).
Norbert Ferencz is being singled out but he is part of an extensive and wide campaign against the criminalisation of homelessness. Similar views have been expressed by the Sant’Egidio Community, the Social Work and Social Policy Department of Eötvös Loránd University, Habitat for Humanity Hungary, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the consultative forum of homeless service providers in Budapest, and the European Federation of National Organizations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA).
In December 2010, the Ministry of Interior introduced legal amendments that made it possible for local mayors to punish “residing in public places”. Istvan Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest subsequently initiated an order that forbade “residing in public places” in the capital. Despite the fact that the Ombudsperson found the local ordinance unconstitutional, district mayor Máté Kocsis started to enforce it vehemently in the 8th district of Budapest, arresting hundreds of homeless people during October, 201. The clear aim was to harass homeless people until they leave his district. Kocsis was also among the signatories to the aforementioned proposal to imprison homeless people, which was discussed by the Parliament on October 17.
On 14 November it is likely that Parliament will vote on a draft law that would punish “residing habitually in public space” with up to 60 days imprisonment or a fine of up to 150.000 HUF, an amount that is almost three times the net minimum wage in Hungary.
This proposal is both unconstitutional and inhumane, since it punishes homeless people for not having appropriate housing. Criminalisation of poverty stands against the principles of our profession and Mr. Ferencz was solely enacting the Code of Practice for our profession. Neither the most oppressed in any given society, including Hungary, nor people who stand up for the rights of the oppressed like Mr. Ferencz, should be criminalised.
On behalf of all members of SWAN, we demand for the charges against Mr. Ferencz to be dropped, as well as all plans to criminalise homelessness in all Budapest Districts and across Hungary. Instead, support should be extended to address structural causes that lead to homelessness and ensure affordable, safe and healthy housing for all Hungarian citizens.
Michael Lavalette (SWAN National Coordinator)
On behalf of SWAN, 3/11/2011
(Download this statement below)
Also please SIGN THE PETITION in support of Norbert Ferencz: http://swan.epetitions.net/
Send messages of support to:
http://ujszemlelet.blog.hu/ (in Hungarian)
Information on the ڪ Szeml鬥t group:
The ڪ Szeml鬥t group is a professional workshop and action group fusing the spirit of community work with social work, formed in 2010 with regard to the renewal of the Social workers code of ethics. In view of this twofold function, our aims are long term. It is an independent organization whose members are social workers.
SWAN will be actively campaigning in support of Norbert Ferencz. Please look out for further announcements here shortly.