BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A 93-year-old former senior Hungarian Communist Party official convicted of war crimes last year will face a new trial after a higher court on Monday annulled his jail sentence, saying the verdict against him was unsubstantiated.
In May 2014, Bela Biszku was convicted of war crimes over shootings of civilian protesters after the 1956 uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks. A Budapest court of first instance sentenced him to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.
However, the prosecution - which had sought a life sentence - lodged an appeal and Biszku’s lawyer also appealed the verdict. Biszku denied all charges.
It was the first trial of a former top communist in Hungary since the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban enacted a law in 2011 to enable prosecution of crimes committed after the anti-Communist revolt.
Biszku was charged over his role on a party committee prosecutors said was involved in ordering the shootings of several civilians during protests in Budapest and in the town of Salgotarjan in December 1956 in which dozens of people died.
On Monday, a Budapest higher court ruled that the verdict was void and ordered the lower court to carry out a new trial.
However it did not acquit Biszku, saying an acquittal would only be appropriate if there were no possibility of further evidence coming to light.
“The court of second instance believes ... that the ruling of the first-degree court ... was to such an extent unfounded, that it is not suitable for review,” the Budapest court said.
“The court ... has annulled the first-degree ruling and ordered the court of first instance to carry out a new proceeding,” a statement on its website said.
The court also said that historians should help answer some of the key questions raised over the case.
The 1956 uprising against Hungary’s Soviet-backed government represented the first major challenge to Moscow’s grip on Eastern Europe since the end of World War Two. Hundreds of people were executed and tens of thousands imprisoned after the revolt was put down.
Editing by Dominic Evans