CEU student arrested during 'slave law' protest in Hungary

A student and activist from the embattled Central European University is being investigated for assault.

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    Adrien, who was arrested during the protest in Budapest, is involved with the "Free University" movement  [JD Blaha/Al Jazeera]
    Adrien, who was arrested during the protest in Budapest, is involved with the "Free University" movement [JD Blaha/Al Jazeera]

    Budapest, Hungary - A student at Hungary's embattled Central European University (CEU) has been arrested for "assault" following protests over a controversial labour legislation and judicial reforms.

    Authorities in the capital Budapest told Al Jazeera that Adrien, whose last name is withheld pending an investigation, and four other unidentified people were arrested on Wednesday night following protests against the government's moves.

    Adrien had joined thousands of protesters outside the parliament building, raising slogans and blocking traffic over a new legislation allowing employers to demand up to 400 hours a year of overtime work, which critics have called a "slave law".

    Police responded by spraying the protesters with pepper spray - a rare occurrence in Hungary - and arresting at least five people.

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    Katalin Kovacs, spokesperson for the prosecutor, told Al Jazeera that an investigation was launched following allegations of "felony of assault against a public official committed in a gang".

    Adrien was arrested along with four others and "the investigation is in progress", Kovacs said.

    In a statement, Szabad Egyetem (or Free University) group, to which the arrested student belonged, said there was "no evidence supporting the allegations" and that he should be released immediately.

    Szabad Egyetem is a student movement against the Hungarian government's crackdown on the CEU.

    The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union told Al Jazeera it will has provided legal advice to Adrien, but was not in a position to "evaluate" his case.

    'Slave law' protests

    Budapest witnessed a large protest and rare scenes of chaos in parliament on Wednesday after Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government succeeded in amending labour laws to increase the maximum annual overtime hours employers can demand, from 250 to 400 hours.

    The government said the new laws were meant to comply with requests from multinational companies, including German car makers, to face the acute labour shortage in the country.

    However, trade unions allege the legislation is equivalent to a "slave law" since it exposes workers to exploitation by employers.

    Protests were also held over a controversial judicial reform that allows the justice minister to appoint the judges who would hear matters relating to voting, corruption and the right to protest.

    Students join workers' protest

    The anti-"slave law" demonstrations saw a large number of students joining the protesting workers and chanting "Free university, free country".

    The Hungarian government’s action against CEU has been seen by critics as part of a wider crackdown on academic freedom, including tighter budgetary and academic controls over the universities.

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    CEU, founded and partially funded by Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, was asked to meet the requirements of a law passed last year compelling foreign universities to have a campus in their home country.

    Earlier this month, after nearly 20 months of attempting to remain in Hungary, CEU announced it has been "forced out" and will move to Vienna.

    The hounding of CEU exemplified the right-wing policies of Orban, who has stated his desire to create an "illiberal" democracy and has made remarks viewed as racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic.

    "We stand in solidarity with Szabad Egyetem and [Adrien] and will continue to show our support in the streets and elsewhere," Attila Vajnai, a left-wing activist, told Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News