Thursday

23rd May 2019

Hungary to push ahead with 'Stop Soros' law on NGOs

  • Hungary's proposed bill would make it impossible for human rights groups to monitor the border (Photo: PES)

Hungary will proceed with a parliamentary vote on Wednesday (20 June) on the government's so-called 'Stop Soros' bill - without waiting for the opinion of a European body of legal experts.

The Council of Europe's 'Venice Commission', a panel of constitutional law experts from the human rights' body, is due to issue its opinion on the bill, but only on Friday.

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Its president, Gianni Buquicchio, asked the Hungarian authorities to halt the adoption of the law until Friday or "at least to take into account the commission's recommendations" in its draft opinion.

However, Gergely Gulyas, Hungary's minister of the prime minister's office, told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday (19 June) that Hungary took note of the commission's opinions, but said that the bill is an adequate response to the migration challenges.

Under the package, people who help migrants not entitled to protection to submit requests for asylum, or who help illegal migrants stay legally in Hungary, will be liable for jail.

NGOs dealing with migration describe the move as an attempt to silence the government's critics and to crack down on civil society.

The bill is seen as part of Hungary premier Viktor Orban's efforts to tighten his grip on power by continuing a campaign against the EU's migration policies, and against Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros.

The bill, submitted only a few weeks after Orban's ruling Fidesz party won elections by a landslide, also rules out asylum for those migrants who arrived in Hungary via a safe third country, in which they were not directly exposed to persecution.

Gulyas said the Venice Commission's draft opinion did not question the right for Hungary to apply the criminal code in migration issues, but only disagreed with the proportionality of the government's measures.

"We do not agree with this, but we thank them for the advice," Gulyas said, adding that the publication of the opinion on Friday was merely a formality.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a reporter in Budapest on Tuesday that the vote will go ahead.

"We have the majority, so we will adopt it [the bill]," he said. Orban's Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, urged Hungary previously to scrap the draft law, saying it would deprive refugees and asylum-seekers of vital services and critical aid, and encourage "rising xenophobic attitudes".

Soros, who is Jewish, was vilified in the election campaign by Fidesz, and some of the targeted NGOs are financed by the billionaire's Open Society Foundationpromoting human rights and liberal values.

In a separate tax bill, Hungary's government is also proposing a 25 percent special migration tax on organisations dealing with migration.

Feature

Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack

Immediately after Orban's landslide victory in April, a list of so-called 'Soros mercenaries' was published by pro-government media. Those on it - mostly human rights defenders, activists and Orban critics - are now anxious but vow to continue.

Orban allies divided in vote on Hungary sanctions probe

The EU parliament's civil liberties committee in a draft report calls on member states to deal with Hungary's backsliding on EU rules. Lawmakers from the centre-right European People's Party were split over the critical report.

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