HUNGARY: Call to vote down the proposed Law on the taxation of civil society organisations

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 priva cy (Draft Bill T/706) and the Law on freedom of assembly (Draft Bill T/707)


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 stand to 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 and migrants’ needs in the country. In its current form, several provisions of the bill infringe upon fundamental 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 data of public figures cannot be regarded as public affairs. Such provisions seriously impact the work of journalists and human rights defenders investigating corruption cases involving politicians or public figures in Hungary. This law is yet another illustration of the constant harassment faced by civil society organisationsin Hungary and seriously endangers freedom of speech.

Lastly, the draft Law on freedom of assembly(T/707) provides that demonstrations can be banned if the authorities deem them to be ‘threatening public order’ or ‘disturbing public traffic’: two vague and ill-defined terms which leave room for abusive interpretations.This law also increases the burden on civil society leaders and organisations as well as on participants to demonstrations: under this draft law, taking part in an unauthorised demonstration can lead to an fine. Moreover, organisers may also be fined if they don’t remove any trash produced as a result of the demonstration. In the current text counter-demonstrations are also criminalised, thus further contributing to considerably narrow the right to peacefully demonstrateas well as the scope for freedom 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 session takes place against a backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating situation of the rule of law in Hungary where several laws have been passed in recent years to undermine the independence of the judiciary, and to target civil society organisations among 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 notice informing 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 bills would 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.

FIDH Secretary General OMCT Secretary General

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