CDA: Excluding Fidesz from EPP

The Dutch EPP member party, the CDA, on Saturday adopted a motion calling for Hungary’s Fidesz to be excluded from the Christian Democratic Party family should Orbán not “return to the way in which Fidesz was previously a valued member of the EPP family.” The CDA wants the EPP to develop “red lines” and, if they continue to be crossed, to provide “the ultimate remedy by requesting the (temporary) suspension of membership.”

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No entry: Hungary’s crackdown on helping refugees

At two official “transit zones”, heavily guarded and closed to journalists and rights activists, just one person per day is allowed to enter to officially begin the asylum process. They will live in shipping containers locked inside the zone for months while the legal process is under way. Now, Hungarian authorities plan to go after the few people trying to help asylum seekers to navigate the system. This week parliament will debate a proposed law that could lead to activists and lawyers facing jail time for advising asylum seekers on their rights.

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Bread and water: How the Hungarian Government plans to lock up its NGO critics

On 29 May 2018, the Hungarian Government submitted a package of bills to the Hungarian Parliament as the third version of what it refers to as the ‘Stop Soros’ package. The bill no. T/333 ‘on the amendment of certain laws in relation to illegal immigration’ proposes using criminal law sanctions and prison terms as weapons against human rights defenders, under the false pretext of tightening rules against irregular migration.

The bill threatens with actual imprisonment those individuals who stand up, with entirely lawful means, for respecting Hungary’s human rights obligations. The new criminal provision on ‘facilitating illegal immigration’ will include activities such as assisting an asylum-seeker to submit an asylum claim, conduct human rights-focused border monitoring activities, issue or distribute information leaflets about the asylum procedure or organising a network (of specialised lawyers, for example). The Hungarian government, instead of heeding widespread international outcries, raises the stakes by replacing the previous bill’s arbitrary licensing process and 25% tax on foreign funds with the threat of locking up human rights lawyers and NGO staff.

This new chapter in the Hungarian government’s attempts to curb independent civil society and the rule of law threatens bringing back an era of fear, unheard of since the fall of communist dictatorship. Cosmetic changes to the bill will mean no solution to this – the bill must be dropped. Any member of parliament who votes Yes on such a proposal sends a clear message of preferring to jail those who help people in need rather than being willing to listen to their critical remarks.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s initial reactions are as follows.

1. The government threatens to use criminal law sanctions against individuals who courageously stand up for human rights, including the right to due process. It threatens jailing those who provide vital assistance to vulnerable human beings and give them legal representation before national authorities and courts and violates everything we define as the rule of law or European values.

2. Seeking asylum is a human right, not a crime. Based on EU and Hungarian law, people threatened by war, torture and persecution have the right to save their life and to seek protection. Individuals providing legal advice and information to asylum-seekers in need act on the clear basis of EU law and commit no crime. Punishing anyone with imprisonment who gives legal assistance to an asylum-seeker or publishes an information leaflet is a breach of EU and international law, and empties the right to due process.

3. It is Hungarian authorities who permit the entry of asylum-seekers into Hungarian territory by admitting them into the transit zones at the southern border. EU law clearly sets out that while the asylum procedure is going on, asylum-seekers have the right to stay in the country. Obviously, it is the Hungarian Immigration and Asylum Office that grants residence permits, not individuals or NGOs.

4. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, its staff members and contracted attorneys provide free-of-charge legal assistance to persons who have already submitted an asylum application and who have been allowed to enter Hungary. By all means, this activity is in full compliance of the law.


Unofficial English translation of the bills

Union stellt Forderungen an Viktor Orbans Regierung

In der Debatte um illiberale Tendenzen in Ungarn hat die Unionsfraktion im Bundestag Erwartungen an die Regierung in Budapest formuliert. Der Ungarn-Berichterstatter der Fraktion, Andreas Nick (CDU), forderte das Land auf, den „ungehinderten Fortbestand“ der Central European University (CEU) in Budapest zu sichern. Dafür müsse ein bereits vorliegendes Abkommen mit dem US-Bundesstaat New York unterzeichnet werden. „Ebenso erwarten wir, dass im Gesetzgebungsvorhaben für das sogenannte NGO-Gesetz die für Juni angekündigte Stellungnahme der Venedig-Kommission des Europarats abgewartet wird und umfassende Berücksichtigung findet“, sagte Nick, der auch die deutsche Delegation in der Parlamentarischen Versammlung des Europarats leitet.

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The Open Society Foundations to Close International Operations in Budapest

Faced with an increasingly repressive political and legal environment in Hungary, the Open Society Foundations are moving their Budapest-based international operations and staff to the German capital, Berlin.

Together with other international funders, Open Society will continue to support the important work of civil society groups in Hungary on issues such as arts and culture, media freedom, transparency, and education and health care for all Hungarians.

The decision to move operations out of Budapest comes as the Hungarian government prepares to impose further restrictions on nongovernmental organizations through what it has branded its “Stop Soros” package of legislation.

“The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “The so-called Stop Soros package of laws is only the latest in a series of such attempts. It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference.”

The legislation, invoking national security interests, would block any organization from advising or representing asylum seekers and refugees without a government license. The government has indicated that these new laws are intended to stop the work of leading Hungarian human rights organizations and their funders, including the Open Society Foundations. The Foundations will pursue all available legal avenues to defend the fundamental rights that are threatened by the legislation.

Over the past two years, the Hungarian government has spent more than 100 million euros in public funds on a campaign to spread lies about the Foundations and their partners. The government’s hate campaign has included propaganda posters and billboards, invoking anti-Semitic imagery from World War II, and a supposed “national consultation” attacking George Soros, founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, and Hungarian human rights groups. Pro-government media recently began publishing false accusations about individual academics, civil society members, and Foundations staff. Those connected to Open Society have been targeted by clandestine and fraudulent recording efforts aimed at fueling the government’s misleading propaganda campaign.

The latest proposed legislation on nongovernmental organizations follows the passage of a 2017 law that imposed burdensome reporting requirements on Hungarian human rights and civil society groups receiving funding from abroad. This law has been challenged by the European Commission before the European Court of Justice as a breach of EU treaty law on the free movement of capital, and a violation of the freedom guaranteed by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Moving operations out of Budapest will have a significant impact on the more than 100 staff based there, most of whom are engaged in international grant making. Around 60 percent are Hungarian nationals, including several who have worked for the Open Society Foundations for more than a decade. The Foundations are taking appropriate steps regarding the safety and well-being of those affected by the office relocation.

The Open Society Foundations have a long legacy in Hungary, where Soros was born and where he began his philanthropy in Europe. He launched his first foundation in Hungary in 1984, using it to promote freedom of expression and thought during the last years of Communism, and then to support the transition to democracy. Within its first decade, Open Society funded milk for schoolchildren, brought equipment to hospitals, and helped the country’s poorest and most vulnerable. In 2010, Soros gave nearly one million euros to help Hungarians affected by the catastrophic “red sludge” industrial disaster.