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14 June 2017

Hungary: Hungarian Parliament passes restrictive NGO legislation

On 13 June 2017, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a law restricting the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The law targets NGOs which receive more than 24,000 USD in foreign donations and who fail to register with the authorities within 15 days as a “foreign funded organisation" and advertise this fact on their websites and on all publications they produce.

The government started preliminary discussions on the law “on the transparency of organisations funded from abroad” in summer 2016, justifying it for reasons of national security and sovereignty, stating that ‘foreign funded organisations’ may serve ‘foreign interests’ and therefore negatively influence Hungarian politics. Existing legislation in Hungary already obliges NGOs to operate in full transparency, submit annual, public reports on their foreign funding, and be subject to audits by the authorities. On the day the law was passed, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, stated that the approved legislation was designed to ensure better transparency of organisations in order to avoid the possibility of money laundering and funding of terrorism.

The adopted law is reminiscent of ‘foreign agent’ laws in Russia and Israel. In cases where an organisation fails to comply with the requirements, it will receive a preliminary warning, and at worst, will be fined or suspended from operating for at least five years. The law, which has been criticised by the European Commission and the United Nations, imposes significant additional reporting burdens upon civil society organisations and will lead to the stigmatisation of certain NGOs, especially those working on human rights issues and which are unable to obtain state funding.

The law is believed to be targeted at Hungarian-US billionaire, George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation (OSF) funds some of the most active NGOs in Hungary. Some of those in receipt of OSF funding promote and protect the rule of law, the rights of refugees and migrants and the provision of social and legal assistance to marginalised and vulnerable groups. On 4 April 2017, the Hungarian Parliament voted in favour of legislation which restricts the work of foreign-funded universities in Hungary, and more specifically, the work of the Central European University, sponsored by the Soros Foundation. The passing of this law led to mass protests in Budapest.

Front Line Defenders believes that introduction of Law No T/14967 “on the transparency of organisations funded from abroad” will be used arbitrarily against Hungarian and international human rights organisations and significantly worsen conditions for their work in Hungary.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Hungary to:

1. Withdraw Law No T/14967 “on the transparency of organisations funded from abroad”;

2. Immediately cease all further harassment and targeting of human rights organisations in Hungary;

3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Hungary are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.