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Hungary's parliament passes controversial NGO law

Hungary's parliament has approved a Russian stylorting requirements for the groups, which risk closure for non-compliance.
Critics say the move is a crackdown on independent voices and an attempt to stigmatise the organisations. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused foreign-funded NGOs, in particular those supported by billionaire George Soros, of domestic interference.

In a vote split along party lines, Hungary's Fidesz-KDNP-controlled parliament defied domestic and international criticism and voted Tuesday to adopt the controversial NGO bill. According to critics at home and abroad, the law unfairly stigmatizes NGOs in violation of Hungarian and EU law. The bill was adopted with 130 votes in favor and 44 against, with 24 abstentions.

"Cosmetic changes to the law in response to the Venice Commission have not altered the law's true intent; it seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most. It attacks Hungarians who help fellow citizens challenge corruption and arbitrary power, and who stand up for free and independent media and for open debate." – Goran Buldioski, director, Open Society Foundation, Europe
"We continue to believe in the rule of law and democracy in Hungary and endorse the actions of those NGOs who have said they will challenge its legality; the NGOs that will be particularly hard hit by this discriminatory and unnecessary law have our full solidarity." – Peter Nizak, Open Society Foundation, Hungary
"The government's droids voted to adopt the anti-civil society law. Shameful." commented Zoltán Kész, an independent MP representing the city of Veszprém and a staunch critic of the ruling Fidesz party, immediately after the vote.
Fidesz's decision to move forward with the bill comes as the latest in a series of steps by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán since 2010 to curb independent and critical voices in Hungary.
The unabashedly "illiberal" prime minister's dismantling of Hungary's post-communist rule of law, attacks on media plurality and silencing of independent civil society groups have helped Orbán consolidate power — at the expense of souring Hungary's relations with the West and isolating the country within the EU.
In early June, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's constitutional law expert advisory body, criticized the Hungarian government's "virulent campaign" against foreign-funded NGOs, adding that the bill imposes excessive obligations on NGOs and disproportionate sanctions.
In response to the Venice Commission's criticism, the government modified the bill but in a manner that left in place its most pernicious provisions, including those to stigmatize organizations as being "foreign-funded" and the threat to legally dissolve an NGO if it does not register as such.
The government also rejected calls by the Venice Commission to involve affected groups in a public consultation on the bill, saying that such recommendations are "political".
In December 2016, Orbán gave an interview to pro-government propaganda blog 888.hu and said, "[2017] would be the year Soros and the powers he symbolizes will be squeezed out."
Since then, the ruling party has adopted legislation effectively forcing the closure of the Central European University, a prestigious university in Budapest founded and endowed by the billionaire American philanthropist George Soros a quarter century ago. The NGO bill adopted Tuesday is the latest step targeting watchdog organizations and rights groups in Hungary, many of which have received funding from Soros' Open Society Foundation.
According to Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Foundation's work in Europe: "Cosmetic changes to the law in response to the Venice Commission have not altered the law's true intent: it seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most. It attacks Hungarians who help fellow citizens challenge corruption and arbitrary power, and who stand up for free and independent media and for open debate.
"The law ignores the main Venice Commission recommendations, but in doing so it violates EU law protecting the freedom of association, the free movement of capital and freedom from discrimination. It undermines the very fundamentals of European democracy," Buldioski notes.
Despite the Hungarian government's sense of urgency in adopting the NGO legislation to address unspecified "national security" concerns and increased transparency, its critics argue the bill lacks any real justification. Hungarian law already calls for NGOs to comply with vigorous transparency measures, including statutory requirements to publish all funding.
exemptions are granted under the law. For instance, the law does not apply to religious, sports organizations or any organization that receives foreign funds if said funds are transferred through a state budgetary institution.

Several Hungarian watchdog organizations and rights groups are expected to challenge the constitutionality of the bill.

"We continue to believe in the rule of law and democracy in Hungary and endorse the actions of those NGOs who have said they will challenge its legality," says Peter Nizak, head of Open Society Foundation's work in Hungary. "The NGOs that will be particularly hard hit by this discriminatory and unnecessary law have our full solidarity."

Human Rights Watch, an international NGO that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, says there is little doubt that the goal is to stigmatize independent groups by using the label "foreign-funded", and to interfere with their ability to work freely, including by putting unnecessary burdens on them and threatening them with sanctions.

Earlier this week Orban told lawmakers in Parliament that Hungary "has never been anti-European" and its government represents "a true European position". Orbán said that the European Union is a voluntary alliance of independent nations and does not equal Brussels. "Hungary is not and has never been anti-European. Quite the opposite, the government represents a true European position, protecting the current European treaty, including the original sharing of competences between the member states and Brussels. It is Brussels rather than Hungary that has changed its position," he claimed. The prime minister accused Brussels of "openly siding with terrorists", which he called "incomprehensible".
Referring to a man convicted in Hungary for leading a group of migrants attacking Hungarian police along the southern border, Orbán said that "Ahmed H's obviously absurd lies" are "more important for Brussels than the security of Hungarians". Referring to US financier George Soros, Orbán called it "absurd" that a "financial speculator" sets the direction for Brussels and gets to say what Europe is supposed to do while European leaders "are bowing" to him.

Socialist deputy group leader László Szakács said his party voted against the Russian-style NGO bill. The Democratic Coalition voiced support for civil society, which they said was as important a pillar of democracy as a free and independent media. Hungary needs Europe rather than Russia and prisons should not be filled with civil activists or opposition politicians – as in Russia – but with corrupt politicians and criminals, they added.

Green LMP said they would request the Constitutional Court's scrutiny of the new law. Zsuzsanna Szelényi of the Együtt (Together) party called the law immoral, discriminative and unnecessary. According to the Liberal Party, the government's aim was to stigmatise civil organisations and restrict their room for manoeuvre rather than to increase transparency through the Russian-style law.

The Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee indicated that they would boycott the law and not register. Amnesty International said the law was aimed against organisations helping the poor, sick children, refugees, migrants and other vulnerable groups providing services for them which the state should but would not.


Source: budapestbeacon.com; hungary matters

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 June 2017 14:46

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