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Hungary approves crackdown on foreign NGOs

June 13, 2017

Foreign-backed civil groups must now register with the courts and declare on all publications that they are not Hungarian. Critics called it a "vicious" attempt by the government to silence critical voices.

Ungarn Parlament Premierminister Orban
Image: Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

On Tuesday, Hungary's parliament approved a strict new law against nonprofits that receive foreign funds, defying calls from the European Parliament to drop the bill. The move was largely seen as part of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban's bid to control public discourse and a way to curtail the influence of the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros.

The law requires that NGOs that receive more than 7.2 million forints ($26,200/23,444 euros) annually from foreign sources register with the courts and declare the fact online and in all their publications. They will also have to list individual sponsors who give them more than 500,000 forints a year.

There are a few exceptions, however. Religious and sports groups and organizations that represent minorities do not have to adhere to the new regulations.

The government has painted the measure as a necessary evil to fight money laundering and the funneling of black market funds to terrorist groups or organized crime.

"No one wants to limit anyone's operations in Hungary ... but organizations whose foreign financing is not known can't be allowed to take part in Hungarian public life," said lawmaker Gergely Gulyas, a member of Orban's Fidesz party.

'Vicious and calculated'

Amnesty International has slammed the new law as a "vicious and calculated assault on civil society."

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe chief, said the "real purpose" of the rule was to "stigmatize, discredit and intimidate critical NGOs and hamper their vital work."

The tough new regulation was also taken as another attempt by Orban's government to limit the power of his political boogeyman, George Soros. The Budapest-born investor is a notable supporter of progressive causes through his NGO, now called Open Society Foundations.

Soros also provides a major source of funding for the Central European University (CEU) in his hometown, a prestigious English-language institution that was targeted by the government this past March. A raft of new laws that would cripple the institution - such as restrictions on non-EU staff members and requiring a new agreement between Hungary and the US government on how diplomas would be awarded - were put forward by Orban's cabinet.

The government argued that the CEU was operating at an unfair advantage in relation to other Hungarian universities. The CEU has challenged the legality of the measures in a letter to the parliament. The European Union has also launched a bid to block the laws based on charges that they violate EU law.

es/msh (AP, dpa)