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12 April 2017

Hungary: Parliament considers enacting ‘anti-foreign funded organisations’ legislation

On 7 April 2017, the Hungarian government submitted a draft law to the Parliament which would severely restrict the work of civil society organisations that receive international funding. The Parliament will vote on the draft law in May 2017.

The proposed law would require civil society organisations which receive more than 7.2 million HUF (approximately 24,000 USD) from overseas sources to report on every foreign transaction. The organisation would also be obliged to re-register within 15 days as a 'foreign funded organisation’ with the authorities and to advertise this fact on its website and on all publications it produces. The government started preliminary discussions on the law on the transparency of organisations funded from abroad in summer 2016, when a first draft was rejected by the Parliament. Existing legislation in Hungary obliges non governmental organisations to operate in full transparency, submit annual, public reports on their foreign funding, and be subject to audits by the authorities. However, the government justified the newly developed legislation by pointing to national security and sovereignty concerns, stating that ‘foreign funded organisations’ may serve ‘foreign interests’ and therefore negatively influence Hungarian politics.

This draft 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 draft law would impose significant additional reporting burdens upon civil society organisations and could lead to the stigmatisation of certain civil society organisations.

It is notable that some of the most active NGOs promoting rule of law, the protection of the rights of refugees and migrants and the provision of social and legal assistance to marginalised and vulnerable groups have been in receipt of funding from the US-based Soros Foundation. Furthermore, 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, if signed into law, the draft law 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 the draft 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.