Orban continues to target CSOs and opponents ahead of April 8th elections

In the lead-up to the April 8th elections, Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz Party appears set on retaining power as it continues to control the media and attack civil society organisations funded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros.

Association

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, in January 2018 the Hungarian government made public three proposed laws, namely the so-called “Stop Soros” package of bills which poses a threat to many civil society organisations (CSOs), especially those focusing on human rights issues and migrants' rights.

In February, modified versions of the bills were sent to the parliament, still containing, however, potentially harmful provisions. Hungary is already facing potential sanctions before the European Commission in the European Court of Justice over its Anti-NGO Law. According to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), the "Stop Soros" bills would further restrict the work of civil society organisations by curtailing their funding and freedom to operate.

One of the “Stop Soros” bills, in particular, requires organisations working on migration issues to obtain government authorisation to do so, which includes a national security screening. Any organisation that does not comply risks eventual closure, and according to the bill, the Interior Minister would decide which organisations should be penalised. In those cases, organisations would be denied access to a judicial review of the Ministry's decision.

HCLU believes that NGOs are facing "a legislative proposal motivated by sheer party political interests that use bans and lies in responding to dissent".

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has condemned the legislation, asserting that "the intention, content and legislative solution of the draft bill fall below the elemental standards of a constitutional democracy".

Peaceful Assembly

While Viktor Orban's government seeks to close space for dissent in media and civil society, it has thus far not engaged in violent attacks. Nonetheless, it has controlled the public narrative. In one recent example, on 15th March Hungarian police used kettling and ID checks as a tactic to control and subsequently put an end to a peaceful protest by student leaders. The protest was in opposition to the government of Viktor Orban and suspected Russian interference in Hungarian politics. According to reports, some protesters are being fined HUF 50,000 (150 EUR) for allegedly violating Hungary’s traffic code.

That student leaders' protest was organised on the same day as a large "Peace March" organised by the ruling Fidesz Party and its supporters. Large crowds were reportedly driven by bus into Budapest on Hungary's National Day to listen to a campaign speech by Viktor Orban in which he criticised immigration into Europe and appeared to directly threaten his opponents. The pro-Orban Visegrad Post reported the Hungarian Prime Minister as saying: "Europe is invaded. If we do nothing, tens and tens of millions of people from Africa and the Middle East will come to Europe...After the elections, we will seek redress. Morally, politically, and legally”.