Hungary approves crackdown on foreign NGOs

The European Parliament last month condemned Hungary for a "serious deterioration" in the rule of law and fundamental rights, and called on the government to withdraw the bill.

The new law, passed by 130 Yes votes, and 44 No votes, will force NGOs that receive more than €24,000 in a year from a foreign donor to register as a "foreign-funded organisation", otherwise they will be forced to closed down.

The law drafted by right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government requires NGOs that get money from overseas to register with the authorities.

Foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer says Germany is "very concerned" by the law as it suggests that Hungary views foreign funding of civil groups as a "hostile, or at least unfriendly, act".

Amnesty International meanwhile called the measures "a vicious and calculated assault" on civil groups critical of Orban's hardline policies.

Orban, 54, has especially focused on NGOs funded by Soros, an American-Hungarian, calling them a "mafia-like" network with paid political activists who threaten national sovereignty.

Following the adoption of the law, two of the most important NGOs in Hungary, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and Amnesty International said that they would boycott the law and turn to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The law is a further step in Orban's push to prevent what he calls foreign meddling in political matters by civil groups and institutions as he seeks to build Hungary into an "illiberal state" modeled on Russian Federation and Turkey.

A government-financed billboard and media campaign has targeted Soros, and a questionnaire was sent to voters earlier this year urging support for the proposal to register foreign-funded NGOs.

Orban has said the NGO bill would deter people from associating themselves with civil society groups, such as those sponsored by Soros, who he accused of trying to undermine the government's anti-immigration agenda.

His government recently passed a law tightening controls over foreign universities in Hungary, which critics say is aimed at the Central European University founded by Soros.

Orban's ruling right-wing Fidesz party, which holds a two-thirds majority in the parliament, said the NGOs' intention to ignore the new law was "outrageous".

The law "seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most", said Goran Buldioski, director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe.

"No consultations took place before the vote, while the general intent to stigmatise also remained", she said.

Separately Tuesday, the European Union launched legal action Tuesday against Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for refusing to take in their share of refugees under a controversial solidarity plan. "It attacks Hungarians who help fellow citizens challenge corruption and arbitrary power, and who stand up for free and independent media and for open debate".

  • Leroy Wright