German Chancellor Angela Merkel must call upon the Hungarian authorities to stop their unprecedented crackdown on NGOs said Amnesty International today as it published a new report coinciding with her visit to the country this week.
Their backs to the wall: civil society under pressure in Hungary details the orchestrated attack on NGOs by the Hungarian authorities over the past year. It has included public smearing, criminal investigations, office raids and the seizure of equipment, and a politically motivated audit which could eventually lead to the closure of organizations.
“The Hungarian authorities’ ongoing assault on NGOs has all the hallmarks of a witch-hunt. EU leaders should be extremely alarmed that practices coined in Russia are gaining currency in an EU member state. Angela Merkel must not miss the opportunity to challenge these practices this week,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
In May 2014, government officials started accusing a number of NGOs of being “paid political activists” who were “attempting to enforce foreign interests” in Hungary – echoing Russia’s hardline stance against critical foreign-funded organizations into the European Union. Amidst this stigmatizing rhetoric by politicians and hostile media reports attempting to discredit organizations in the eyes of the public, the government then ordered an audit of 59 NGOs distributing and receiving grants from Norwegian government backed funding.
“This was a politically motivated audit preceded by statements by the Prime Minister and other government officials asserting the ‘guilt’ of the implicated organisations without any substantial evidence of criminal wrong-doing or financial irregularities,” said John Dalhuisen.
Following unspecified criminal allegations by the auditors, police launched investigations into alleged crimes in connection with NGO funding and then raided the offices of two organizations and the home of an employee of one of them, seizing computers, servers and documents. On 23 January, the Central District Court in Buda declared the search and seizures unlawful on the grounds of a failure to establish suspicion of offence before they were carried out.
Four NGOs are now facing separate legal proceedings which could lead to them losing their tax registration numbers and effectively being shut down.
“The Hungarian government’s NGO witch-hunt has sent a chilling message to everyone who speaks out against human rights abuses, corruption and homophobia. The Hungarian authorities must stop this campaign against independent critical voices and Angela Merkel and other EU leaders must urgently insist that they do so,” says John Dalhuisen.