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Hungary Set to Crackdown on NGOs Supporting Migrants

16 April 2018 at 2:02 pm
Luke Michael
Hungary’s prime minister has vowed to push through legislation targeting civil society organisations that support migrants, after securing a landslide re-election victory on an anti-immigration platform.

Luke Michael | 16 April 2018 at 2:02 pm


Hungary Set to Crackdown on NGOs Supporting Migrants
16 April 2018 at 2:02 pm

Hungary’s prime minister has vowed to push through legislation targeting civil society organisations that support migrants, after securing a landslide re-election victory on an anti-immigration platform.  

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party obtained a two-thirds majority in Hungary’s 8 April election, with a final ballot count revealing on Sunday that the party had won 133 seats in the 199-seat parliament.

This significant majority in Orbán’s third-straight election victory has given the Fidesz party powers to change constitutional laws, and the prime minister has signalled his first priority will be cracking down on NGOs that support migrants.

Orbán ran his election campaign on an anti-immigration platform, arguing that pro-migration NGOs were part of a plot to send millions of migrants to Hungary.

This plot has been allegedly orchestrated by Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros – whose Open Society foundations have donated billions of dollars supporting civil society and human rights.

The so-called “Stop Soros” legislation would include the mandatory registration of some NGOs that “support illegal immigration” and impose a 25 per cent tax on foreign donations that these NGOs collect.

Orbán also indicated that a Russian-inspired NGO law requiring foreign-funded groups to label themselves as “organisations supported from abroad” would be introduced.

“The Hungarian voters have designated the most important topics: immigration and the topic of national security. Hungarians have decided they want to be the only ones who will decide who can live in Hungary,” Orbán said at a press conference in Budapest.                                                  

“The reason we submitted this package before the elections is in order to allow the Hungarian voters to cast their vote knowing our intention on this. This has happened and we believe we are mandated by this election to pass this law.”

The prime minister told state radio in March that the government knew the details of activists paid by Soros.

“We know by name who they are and how they work to transform Hungary into an immigrant country. That’s why we drafted and submitted the ‘Stop Soros’ bill which qualifies immigration as an issue of national security,” Orbán said.

Soros meanwhile rejected the government’s campaign against him as “distortions and lies”.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee – a migration-focused NGO partially funded by Soros – said in a statement they were extremely concerned about Orbán’s re-election.

“The last decades have shown the importance and merit of our work. This is even more so now when an unscrupulous government has gained effectively unlimited power to change the constitution, further dismantle the rule of law and arbitrarily restrict human rights,” the committee said.

“During its eight years in power, the government had already made it very clear that it values its own interests above the rule of law and democratic values, human rights and the constitution.

The Hungarian election process was lambasted by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which delivered a preliminary statement on their observations of the election.

“Voters had a wide range of political options but intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing constricted the space for genuine political debate, hindering voters’ ability to make a fully-informed choice,” the OSCE said.

“Legislative constraints and intimidating rhetoric by the government stifled civil society’s involvement in election-related activities, limiting the public’s access to non-partisan assessment of the elections. The legislation provides for international election observation at all stages of the process.”

The statement also noted Hungary’s recent crackdown on civil society.

“In June 2017, [a] law set forth extensive registration and disclosure requirements for certain types of foreign-funded civil society organisations (CSOs),” the OSCE said.

“In 2018, the government proposed the so-called ‘Stop Soros Legislative Package’, which would place restrictions on CSOs allegedly supporting illegal migration.”

“Many [from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] voiced concerns that these restrictions shrink civil society space and limit public discourse that is critical of the government.”

In response to the government’s proposed NGO crackdown, the European commission has taken Hungary to the European court of justice to protest its “supported from abroad” legislation.

The laws would require Hungarian NGOs receiving more than $7.2 million Hungarian forints (about $A37,000) in foreign funds to register and declare they were organisations supported from abroad.

The commission expressed concerns the legislation would have a stigmatising effect on recipients and donors, and discourage donations.

Orbán’s election victory has triggered mass protests in Hungary, with an estimated 100,000 Hungarians marching in protest against the government on Sunday.

The protestors decried what they said was an unfair election system, a “hate campaign” against immigrants and a lack of free media.

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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