Hungary approves strict regulations on foreign-funded NGOs

Hungary's parliament has approved a law regulating civic groups which receive foreign funding

The law, passed by 130 votes to 44, will oblige NGOs receiving more than 7.2 million forints (about 26,290 USA dollars) per year in foreign funding to register as a "foreign-supported organization", or risk termination for non-compliance.

"No one wants to limit anyone's operations in Hungary. but organizations whose foreign financing is not known can't be allowed to take part in Hungarian public life", said lawmaker Gergely Gulyas, a member of Orban's Fidesz party.

BackgroundThe proposals echo Russia's "foreign agents law" which has seen the reputation of hundreds of credible organizations tarnished, their staff intimidated and their work bogged down by administrative requirements.

Hungary's ruling Fidesz party pushed strict new regulations for non-government organisations that get foreign funding through parliament on Tuesday despite calls from the European Parliament and rights groups for the bill to be dropped.

The government of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban says the measures are aimed at improving transparency as well as fighting money laundering and terrorism funding.

All organisations getting more than 84,000 euros a year from overseas must register with the authorities and declare their "foreign" status on their websites and in all related materials. "But, writes the Budapest Beacon, ". the government modified the bill but in a manner that left in place its most pernicious provisions, including those to stigmatize organizations as being "foreign-funded" and the threat to legally dissolve an NGO if it does not register as such".

Along with tough anti-immigrant rhetoric, such attacks on Soros fit well with Orban's domestic political agenda.

The union receives large contributions from Mr Soros' Open Society Foundations, as does another human rights group, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which also said it plans to boycott the law.

The Hungarian law approved Tuesday made some concessions to objections raised by the Venice Commission, an independent advisory body on constitutional matters of the 47-nation Council of Europe.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution last month condemning Hungary for the "serious deterioration" in the rule of law and fundamental rights, and called on the government to withdraw the bill on foreign-funded NGOs.

Several NGOs declared a boycott of the law and said they would take the matter to global courts.

Mass protests have broken out across Hungary in recent months in the wake of the new NGO and university laws. But the NGOs dismissed the amendments as superficial changes.

Soros's Open Society Foundations, which disburse funding to several prominent NGOs in Hungary, warned on Monday that the law posed serious risks to democracy in the country. "It seeks to suppress democratic voices in Hungary just when the country needs them most".

TASZ said in a statement: "The law is a targeted attack and attempt to silence TASZ and all other organisations which have the courage to help those who are oppressed".

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