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Hungarian parliament approves "unecessary, stigmatising and harmful" law on NGOs receiving funds from abroad
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On Tuesday 13 June the Hungarian parliament approved the 'Law on the Transparency of Organisations Receiving Foreign Funds' that requires non-governmental organisations (NGO) receiving more than €24,000 in direct or indirect funding from abroad to register as "civic organisations funded from abroad". The Civilizáció coalition of Hungarian NGOs condemned the law as "unecessary, stigmatising and harmful" and "a new step in a longer process that aims at fully discrediting civil society organisations."

In a statement, Civilizáció said it would "use all opportunities afforded by law" to "continue to protest against the ‘foreign funded NGO’ law before all available domestic and international fora. We are here to stay and to continue our common work as we must not abandon Hungarian society and the people who need and count on our support."

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, one of the members of the coalition and reportedly a direct target of the law, has said that "Hungarian society and civil society organisations must not stay silent" and that the Committee will not comply with the new measures until they are "reviewed and approved by the Constitutional Court and/or the European Court of Human Rights."

The formal justification for the law is to increase transparency and fight money laundering although religious organisations, sports groups and initiatives representing ethnic minorities are exempt from the measures, and it is well-documented that the government introduced the bill as part of its campaign against George Soros, whose Open Society groups provide funding for many critical NGOs in Hungary.

The BBC has reported government chancellor Janos Lazar as saying that the law is directed at three organisations in particular - Transparency International, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

Last week Fidesz politician Gergely Gulyás reiterated that "the new law is necessary to ensure the transparency of Hungary’s “Soros-organisations” and to clarify allegations of some organisations being financed “from the east”," while Fidesz communications director Balazs Hidveghi has said the law is needed to "vet" the "Soros network", because "Soros has declared war on Hungary, wants to dismantle the fence, bring in the immigrants and use his agent organizations for this.”

Amnesty International described the law as "vicious and calculated assault on the rights to freedom of expression and association" intended to "stigmatize, discredit and intimidate critical NGOs and hamper their vital work," and the organisation has previously stated that it is "worryingly reminiscent of Russian’s draconian ‘foreign agents’ law and is an ominous blueprint for the oncoming assault on Hungarian civil society."

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union said yesterday that "similar laws were adopted in Russia and Israel in the disguise of transparency, which aim at silencing NGOs providing critical services and monitoring government’s human rights trackrecord. The now adopted Hungarian NGO Act is a carbon-copy of Putin’s foreign agent law."

Statement from the Civilizáció coalition of civil society organisations (originally posted on Facebook)

NGOs: We’re here to stay and to continue our work

On Tuesday, 13 June, after two postponed votes, the Hungarian Parliament adopted the Law on the Transparency of Foreign Funded Organisations. The community of civil society organisations united in the Civilizáció campaign continue to believe that the law is unnecessary, stigmatising and harmful.

Unnecessary, because Hungarian civil society organisations are already transparent in their operations, provide accurate information about their donors and finances in annual reports and carry out their activities before the public. Stigmatising, because the law implies that organisations which work for the benefit of Hungarian society by receiving foreign grants for their work pose a threat to the country. Harmful, because it undermines mutual trust in society and questions the right to freedom of expression.

We, as civil society organisations, are diverse. However, we are united in our protest against being stigmatised and the efforts to stop us from carrying out our mission. We help millions of people each year by serving homeless persons, giving free legal advice or welfare services, educating or supporting disadvantaged children or senior citizens, or by protecting our environment. We work on genuine and pressing social issues that receive less attention than needed and often do the job of state authorities.

There is reason to fear that the newly adopted law will not stop the several years old governmental campaign to denounce Hungarian civil society organisations. On the contrary, this is a new step in a longer process that aims at fully discrediting civil society organisations. However, there can be no real democracy and civil liberties without independent and critical thinking and a strong civil society.

We, civil society organisations, cherish our diversity but stand united in our goal to make Hungary a better, more liveable place. All organisations affected by the law will keep this in their mind when they make their respective decisions on implementing the law on “foreign funded organisations”. We are convinced that the new law is in breach of Hungary’s Basic Law and many other international treaties ratified by Hungary because it unjustifiably restricts the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Hence, by using all opportunities afforded by law, we will continue to protest against the ‘foreign funded NGO’ law before all available domestic and international fora. We are here to stay and to continue our common work as we must not abandon Hungarian society and the people who need and count on our support.

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