BUDAPEST, Hungary – A leading international human rights monitor demanded Thursday that Hungary stop "threatening and obstructing the work of journalists" after Hungarian police beat and harassed reporters covering Europe's migration crisis. Hungarian police denied having beaten any journalists and said any reporters who were hurt in violence at the border have only themselves to blame.
Dunja Mijatovic, the media freedom representative for the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Hungarian police in recent days have beaten journalists, broken their equipment and forced them to delete footage. The incidents all have been confirmed by the affected news organizations.
"Such behavior is totally unacceptable, as it disregards the essential role of the media, and endangers the safety of journalists," Mijatovic said in a statement.
In an unsigned statement, Hungarian police said its officers never harmed the journalists.
"Police categorically reject statements which take it as fact that police 'beat up' journalists," the statement read.
It added that any reporters hurt in clashes between police and refugees on Wednesday are themselves to blame, because police warned them that they planned to use "elements of force."
"We strongly object to the criticism from Dunja Mijatovic," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told state news agency MTI, lamenting that her "statement was not made based on true facts."
No one in Hungary is threatening journalists and no one is obstructing their work, Szijjarto said.
The OSCE referred to four cases of harassment, including the brief detention Saturday of an Associated Press journalist covering migrants crossing the border. The cameraman, Luca Muzi, said Hungarian police forced him to delete footage that included images of a police dog knocking down a refugee.
The AP sent a letter of protest to the Hungarian government this week in which it called the officers' behavior "unacceptable" and said journalists "should be able to cover news events without ... risking physical abuse, and without fear that the government will destroy legally obtained footage."
Hungary denied forcing Muzi to delete footage.
The other three incidents that the OSCE protested took place Wednesday during clashes between asylum seekers and Hungarian police at the Hungary-Serbia border.
A Polish journalist with the country's public broadcaster, TVP, was treated for head injuries after being beaten by police, the OSCE said. The journalist, Jacek Tacik, said he was detained and held for 13 hours after officers accused him of hitting a policeman.
"I have done nothing like that," Tacik said.
He said an Australian photographer and a Slovak reporter were also detained with him and released.
In the statement, Hungarian police said an Australian, a Slovak and a Pole were questioned "on suspicions of having crossed the border illegally," adding that no charges had yet been filed.
In the other cases, Hungarian police used a baton to attack three journalists with Radio-Television Serbia and smashed their equipment "even though they had identified themselves as journalists," the OSCE said.
A crew with the media outlet B92 also suffered from tear gas fired by the police at migrants who tried to storm a gate, the organization said.
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.