Saturday

27th May 2017

Hungary rejects criticism of NGO crackdown

  • The Hungarian government denies Orban (l) wants to create an illiberal democracy (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The Hungarian government continues to label organisations like Amnesty International as "political agents" in a move civil society says is part of a plan to intimidate dissenting voices.

Hungary's government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs accused some NGOs on Monday (27 February) of being "foreign agents financed by foreign money".

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

He said the NGOs were organising "networks and frameworks" in an attempt to influence political decision-making.

"I believe that should be avoided and stopped," he told reporters in Brussels.

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban earlier this month lashed out at civil society groups financed by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, such as Human Rights Watch.

The government criticism comes ahead of a legislative proposal to force NGOs to submit a declaration of assets, which Kovacs said was needed to ensure transparency.

But the Hungarian Civil Liberties Committee told MEPs in a debate, also on Monday, that the right-wing government push for NGO transparency was an attempt to stifle dissent.

"All of these proposals are wrapped in a rhetoric that reveals their real purpose, to stigmatise or even get rid of these organisations," said Stefania Kapronczy, executive director at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Committee.

The legislative proposal on NGOs has yet to be made public, noted Kapronczy.

Amnesty International's Todor Gardos says they too have faced government abuse.

He said the first wave of intimidation and harassment of NGOs had been ordered by Orban.

Last week, the government accused Amnesty of producing fake reports and of inciting migrants to break laws, he said.

"We are expecting more intimidation," he told MEPs.

Gardos said Hungary's breach of EU values warranted the triggering of article 7 of the EU treaty, which could lead to the suspension of voting rights in the Council.

Hungary hosts some 60,000 NGOs.

Its minister, Laszlo Trocsanyi, said they were flourishing but that their level of "legitimacy is variable".

"The government has legitimacy in the fact that the people have voted for them, NGOs have the right to express their views, if we don't hear those views there is a problem, but if we don't accept those views, can you really accuse us of being some kind of dictatorship?", he asked MEPs.

Hungary has drawn criticism from human rights defenders who say its migration and asylum policies, border crackdowns, and restrictions on media are part of a broader authoritarian trend.

The government last year spent millions on a failed referendum against migrants. But NGOs like Amnesty said efforts such as this had contributed to a heightened increase of hostility against migrants.

The government also paid over €500 million for a border fence with Serbia, including related expenses.

It has earmarked an additional €124 million to erect a second "smart fence", equipped with motion detection devices.

It said the smart fence was needed to reduce migration into the country from across Serbia "basically to zero".

Anyone caught within 8km of the Hungarian side of the border is escorted by the police back to Serbia. Over 19,000 people, from July and December alone last year, were blocked and pushed back.

Hungary's parliament is now mulling a bill that would allow authorities to detain every asylum seeker, including families with children, in transit zones along the border. Up to 300 people would be housed in buildings made of old containers.

The Hungarian government said the proposal was part of its efforts to protect the EU's passport-free zone Schengen area.

But both Human Rights Watch and Hungarian Helsinki Committee in a joint letter over the weekend asked the European Commission to intervene.

"The European Commission should not stand by while Hungary makes a mockery of the right to seek asylum," Human Rights Watch deputy director Benjamin Ward said.

"Using transit zones as detention centers and forcing asylum seekers who are already inside Hungary back to the Serbian side of the razor-wire fence is abusive, pointless, and cruel," he said.

Opinion

The university so disliked by Orban

In a world with many new phrases like 'fake news' or 'alternative facts', Viktor Orban's government in Hungary is taking a more familiar approach to shutting down academic free expression in Hungary.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Opinion

Development serving the purpose of migration control

While the EU is sacrificing development aid to serve short-term migration interests, it is important to realise that enhanced border controls will not solve the root causes of forced migration and displacement.

Italian refugee centre allegedly run by mafia

One of Italy's most powerful mafia syndicates, the 'Ndrangheta, allegedly stole over €32 million from a refugee centre run by a Catholic charity in southern Italy.

News in Brief

  1. Malloch will not be US ambassador to the EU
  2. 'Significant' drop in EU migration to UK
  3. Bomb injures former Greek PM
  4. British PM to speak out on US terrorism leaks
  5. Tusk calls for 'values, not just interests' after Trump meeting
  6. Pressure grows on climate impact of EU timber harvesting
  7. US goes after Fiat Chrysler over emissions cheat
  8. Munich police break up Europe-wide burglar clan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms