Hungary Steps Up Its Attack on Civil Society

The Hungarian government recently submitted to parliament a package of three legislative proposals that would further paralyse the work of civil society groups.

Viktor Orban's regime has escalated its attack on civil society organisations in Hungary with a new legislative package that aims to silence one of the few remaining critical voices against the government.

Since 2013, the government has been carrying out a campaign to eliminate all voices of opposition. Orban has packed the courts with loyalists. Public media has effectively become a government propaganda machine. Now civil liberties groups are in the crosshairs.

No full judicial oversight

The new legislative package before the parliament attempts to silence non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by restricting their funding and freedom to operate. One of the proposals included in the package requires associations and foundations that work on migration issues to obtain government authorisation and submit to a national security screening. Any organisation that does not comply risks severe financial penalty, the withdrawal of its tax number, or even closure.

According to the bill, the interior minister would be in charge of deciding which organisations should be penalised. No full judicial review is available against the decision of the minister; when authorisation is denied, an organisation may file an appeal to the courts only against a substantial violation of procedural rules. Furthermore, even when it conducts such activity with authorisation, the law would impose a penalty tax on the organisation.

Politically motivated attack on basic rights

"The recently submitted legislative proposal would ban the exercise of fundamental rights and the protection of human rights, for the time being, in certain fields. Thus activities that can be freely conducted on the basis of fundamental rights - such as expressing one's opinion, informing others, working with volunteers, or representing the interests of others - would become subject to authorisation.

All this clearly shows what we are actually facing: a legislative proposal motivated by sheer party political interests that uses bans and lies in responding to dissent," said Liberties member the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union in a statement following submission of the bill.

The new legislative proposal represents a continuation of the anti-NGO law already on the books. This law requires organisations that receive more than 7.2 million HUF (approximately 24,000 EUR) in foreign donations per year to register as civil society organisations funded from abroad and indicate this on their websites and publications.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee's English translation of the new legislative package is available here.