AMNESTY CALLS ON THE STATE DEPARTMENT TO DEFEND CIVIL SOCIETY IN HUNGARYMay 25, 2018
The Government of Hungary must drop its legislative effort to extinguish civil society organizations, including Amnesty International Hungary, and end the campaign of intimidation aimed at nongovernmental organizations. The State Department must clearly communicate to Hungarian officials that it strongly objects to any legislative attempts to muzzle civil society.
On May 25, Amnesty International sent a letter to A. Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, concerning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s upcoming meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on May 30.
In recent months, the Hungarian Parliament has moved to consider a group of laws, collectively known as “Stop Soros,” which would effectively extinguish numerous prominent Hungarian civil society organizations. Specifically, the proposed law would require organizations that “support migration” to obtain national security clearance and a government permit to perform basic functions. Additionally, the legislation would require organizations to pay a tax of 25 percent of any foreign funding aimed at “supporting migration.” Organizations found to be in breach of the proposed legislation would be subject to exorbitant funds, forced bankruptcy and potential closure.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Szijjártó has personally championed the proposed legislation and condemned its critics using inflammatory language. Secretary Pompeo and Assistant Secretary A. Wes Mitchell should clearly communicate to him that this assault on civil society cannot be allowed to continue.
A copy of the letter is reproduced below.
May 25, 2018
A. Wess Mitchell
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
Re: The Government of Hungary’s Attempts to Strangle Civil Society
Dear Assistant Secretary Mitchell:
We am writing on behalf of Amnesty International USA (“AIUSA”), and our two million members and activists in all 50 states, regarding Secretary Pompeo’s May 30 meeting with Péter Szijjártó, Foreign Minister of Hungary. We urge you and the Secretary to use this meeting to raise objections to Hungary’s crackdown on civil society, which includes threats against Amnesty International staff
On 13 February 2018, the Hungarian government tabled to Parliament a proposed legislative pack of three laws, commonly referred to as “Stop Soros.” The laws contain draconian restrictions on civil society organizations operating in Hungary, potentially leading to their permanent closure.
Specifically, the proposed law would require organizations that “support migration” to obtain national security clearance and a government permit to perform basic functions. Additionally, the legislation would require organizations to pay a tax of 25 percent of any foreign funding aimed at “supporting migration.” Organizations found to be in breach of the proposed legislation would be subject to exorbitant funds, forced bankruptcy and potential closure.
Through a series of inflammatory statements, Foreign Minister Szijjártó has emerged as one of the government’s most vocal advocates for the proposed legislation. Mr. Szijjártó labeled the foreign minister of Luxembourg an “idiot” who “clearly hates Hungary” after he expressed concerns over the proposed laws
Against this legal background, the government of Hungary and its allies have engaged in a concerted campaign of harassment against civil society. On Thursday, April 12, A Hungarian magazine with close ties to the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán published a list of individuals it described as “mercenaries” paid to overthrow the government. The list included staff of Amnesty International, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, Transparency International, as well as journalists, and faculty from the Central European University. Amnesty International’s Hungary staff have received online threats and abuse for their activism.
Now is a critical time for action. Immediately following the Fidesz Party’s win in the April 2018 elections, Prime Minister Orban said he would push through the proposed legislation at the earliest opportunity. Hungary’s legislature may put the proposed bills to a vote as early as late May. The impact of these laws would be unprecedented: for the first time, a member of the European Union and NATO would effectively extinguish local presence of multiple international NGOs.
We urge you and Secretary Pompeo to clearly communicate to Foreign Minister Szijjártó that the U.S. considers civil society as a valuable partner and strongly objects to any attempts – legislative or otherwise – to impede its operations. We also urge you to press Hungary to halt all threats, intimidation, and other acts designed to shut down civil society.
Amnesty International works in more than 70 countries around the world. Our staff undertake personal risk to interview refugees, defend civil society, and investigate mass atrocities in dangerous places. However, the threats to our colleagues in Hungary are frightening, If allowed to continue, they and the legal environment that enables them, will imperil our ability to continue doing critical human rights work in a country that is cracking down on dissent.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Daniel Balson, Amnesty International Eurasia advocacy director, at [email protected] or (202) 509-8132.
Joanne Lin Daniel Balson
National Director Advocacy Director
Advocacy and Government Affairs Europe and Central Asia