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Hungary
19.07.18
Statements

Call to vote down the proposed Law on the taxation of civil society organisations working with migrants and receiving foreign funding, the Law on the protection of privacy (Draft Bill T/706) and the Law on freedom of assembly (Draft Bill T/707)

OPEN LETTER - THE OBSERVATORY

To:

All Members of Parliament

Paris-Geneva, July 19, 2018

Re: Call to vote down the proposed Law on the taxation of civil society organisations working with migrantsand receiving foreign funding, the Law on the protection of privacy (Draft Bill T/706) and the Law on freedom of assembly (Draft Bill T/707)

Excellencies,

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT partnership), expresses its concerns overthree pieces of legislation to be voted by the Hungarian Parliament on July 20-22, 2018, namely the draft Law on the taxation of civil society organisations working with migrants and receiving foreign funding, the draft Law on the protection of privacy (T/706) and the draft Law on freedom of assembly(T/707). These laws are yet another example that migration is used as an excuse to silence civil society organisations and drastically reduce the space in which they are operating. In the same vein as the so called « Stop Soros » anti-immigration legal package[1], they are a testimony of the government’s clear standto systematically criminalise human rights defenders and civil society organisations working in defence of migrants’ rights.

If adopted, the first of the three bills which will be voted by the Parliament would impose a 25 % tax on the revenues of all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) receiving foreign funding and supporting migrants and refugees in the country. This tax will ultimately be used to fund the protection– or even, the patrolling and militarisation of borders. This law also expands the definition of those supporting migrants and refugees’to include organisers of educational activities onmigration. Moreover, it will impose a 50 % additional tax onall NGOs which have made an incorrect tax declaration.

Consequently, this bill severely threatens the financial capacities of numerous civil society organisations relying on foreign funds and undermines their work as well as their capacity to respond to refugees andmigrantsneeds in the country. In its current form, several provisions of the billinfringe uponfundamental international and European human rights standards, and seriously endanger freedom of association in Hungary.

The second bill under discussion, the draft Law on the protection of privacy(T/706) states that any private or family related activities and dataof public figurescannotbe regarded as public affairs. Such provisions seriously impactthe work of journalists and human rights defenders investigating corruption cases involving politicians or public figuresin Hungary. This law is yet another illustration of theconstant harassment faced by civil society organisationsin Hungary andseriouslyendangersfreedom of speech.

Lastly, the draft Law on freedom of assembly(T/707) provides that demonstrationscan be banned if the authorities deem them to be ‘threateningpublic order’ or ‘disturbing public traffic’: twovague and ill-defined terms which leave room for abusive interpretations.This law also increases the burden on civil society leadersandorganisations as well as onparticipants to demonstrations: under this draft law, taking part in an unauthoriseddemonstration can lead to an fine. Moreover, organisersmay also befined if they don’t remove anytrash produced as a result of thedemonstration. In the current text counter-demonstrations are also criminalised, thus further contributing to considerably narrow the right to peacefully demonstrateas well as the scope forfreedom of assembly and expression.

We would like to recall in particular that the right to freedom of assembly and association is a fundamental and universal right enshrined in numerous international instruments, such as Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This includes the ability for civil society organisations to “access funding and other resources from domestic, foreign and international sources”. While this right may be restricted, especially for purposes of transparency and good governance, as in any other sector of society, and to prevent crime, including money laundering and terrorism financing, any restriction must always be “prescribed by law”, be “necessary in a democratic society” and respect the primacy of general interest as well as the principle of proportionality (Article 22.2 of ICCPR and case-law of the United Nations Human Rights Committee). Restrictions should never be used as a pretext to control NGOs and restrict their ability to carry out their legitimate work.

This Parliament sessiontakes place against a backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating situation of the rule of lawin Hungary where several laws have been passed in recent years to undermine the independence of the judiciary, and to target civil society organisationsamong others.

Already on June 20, 2018, by adopting the so called “Stop Soros” package, the Hungarian Government openly ignored the requests of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, which was reviewing the draft legislation and was expected to release its final opinion a few days later. In its opinion adopted on June 22-23, 2018, the Venice Commission requested the law to be repealed, as it introduced a disproportionate restriction on Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR on freedom of association and freedom of expression[2]. The Venice Commission also stated that “there may be circumstances in which providing ‘assistance’ [to migrants and refugees] is a moral imperative or at least a moral right”.

Furthermore, on July 19, 2018, the European Commission has sent a letter of formal noticeinforming Hungary of its decision to refer the country to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). In the letter, the Commission underlines how the Hungarian legislation infringes EU standards as it fails to provide effective access to asylum procedures, it breaches the procedural guarantees set out in the Reception Conditions Directive and violates the principle of non-refoulement by failing to provide individual decisions and ensuring information on legal remedies.

Based on these concerns, we urge the Hungarian Parliament to reject these bills and put an end to the legislative harassment of human rights defenders operating in Hungary.

Rather than stigmatising and hindering the work of civil society by shrinking its space through unnecessary, disproportionate, and harmful pieces of legislation, we urge the authorities of Hungary to ensure an enabling environment for civil society, so that human rights defenders can pursue their legitimate work freely and without hindrances.

At a time when human rights defenders throughout Europe face trumped up charges for “facilitating irregular migration”[3], the Hungarian Parliament must stand up for those who provide necessary assistance to those who have been failed by domestic and European regulations. Your vote against the current billswould represent a crucial occasion for Hungary to express its commitment to ensuring respect for its obligations under international and European law, including the EU’s founding principles of respect for democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

We stand ready to provide any further information you may require.

Dan VAN RAEMDONCK Gerald STABEROCK

FIDH Secretary General OMCT Secretary General

[1] See the Observatory’s Press releasepublished on July 10, 2018.

[2] CDL-AD (2018)013-e Hungary - Joint Opinion on the Provisions of the so-called “Stop Soros” draft Legislative Package which directly affect NGOs (in particular Draft Article 353A of the Criminal Code on Facilitating Illegal Migration), adopted by the Venice Commission at its 115th Plenary Session (Venice, 22-23 June 2018).

[3] See for instance the Observatory’s Urgent Appeals ITA 001 / 0418 / OBS 048 published on April 16, 2018 on the criminalization of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms after a rescue operation in the Mediterranean, and FRA 001 / 0518 / OBS 077 published on May 29, 2018, on the criminalisation of three activists assisting migrants at the borders between France and Italy.

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