Hungary: Groups fear being 'shut down' after Orban win

Hungary: Groups fear being 'shut down' after Orban win
From Al Jazeera - April 13, 2018

Following Viktor Orban'sconvincing victory in Hungary's national elections, civil society organisations and observers worry his newly emboldened Fidesz party will use its supermajority to further silence opponents and further tighten their grip on the country.

Two days after winning 49 percent of the vote, which secured Fidesz 134 of 199 seats in parliament, Orban, the current prime minister, said his party would push its anti-migration platform by passing previously floated legislation known as the Stop Soroslaws.

The legislation, nicknamed after Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros - who funds the Central European University and Open Society Foundations, proponents of liberal democracy - would enact unprecedented restrictions on human rights groups.

Orban said on Tuesday that the laws were submitted before the election so voters would know the government's intentions.

"This has happened and we believe we are mandated by this election to pass this law," he said.

Though the law is not finalised, the proposed incarnation would ban any new foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that "support illegal" immigration and force those already on the ground to pay new taxes.

Causes for concern

Gauri van Gulik, Europe director of Amnesty International, said that requiring NGOs to pay taxes to a government that suppresses the rights of immigrants is a nonstarter that would effectively force groups like Amnesty International to withdraw from the country.

"It is absolutely in the cards that we would be shut down in Hungary, which is an important thing to repeat. Amnesty International could be shut down in a country within the European Union. That's the potential consequence of this law - so that is what we are dealing with at the moment," she said.

Another cause for concern came on Thursday when pro-government magazine Figyelo printed the names of more than 200 people it claimed were "mercenaries" of Soros, paid to topple Orban's government and open the country to immigrants.

Those listed included journalists, university professors and members of rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Transparency International.

These recent actions follow an election marred by allegations that the ruling party created an unlevel playing field by misappropriating state funds and resources to support its campaign and systemically eliminating independent voices in the media.

Douglas Wake, head of the election observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told Al Jazeera that it's not just the "fact that the government is playing a role that we believe crosses a line that is contradicting international standards" on divisions between party and state, but also "undermining the campaign finance regime which should ensure that all campaign financing is transparent".

Shrinking space

Over recent years, Orban's allies have acquired numerous media outlets. Independent media outlets in what critics say is a way to control the narrative.

Many independent outlets, cut off from state resources while facing increasing regulations, have closed.

With a third consecutive term now decided, that trend has not slowed after one of Hungary's oldest and most popular conservative newspapers, Magyar Nemzet, was forced to shut due to financial reasons.

'Decline of democracy'

Unlikely outcome


Continue reading at Al Jazeera »