In Hungary, a new authority “for the defense of Hungarian sovereignty” began to work. What is it used for?
What is the new Office of Sovereign Protection doing? Its main task is to prevent the flow of money from abroad to Hungarian parties or – from the government's point of view – undesirable organizations. Máté Kocsis, head of the parliamentary committee of the ruling Fidesz party, describes what this means: “We want to make life harder for those who sell our homeland abroad for dollars. “We want to warm to left-wing journalists, pseudo-NGOs and dollar politicians who believe they want to represent the interests of American billionaires or Brussels-based multinationals.” Direct funding of parties from abroad is already banned in Hungary. With the new law, the ban now also applies to politically active organizations and clubs. Anyone who violates this can be jailed for up to three years.
What is the new authority allowed to do? The new sovereign has broad powers to investigate any person or entity suspected of violating the law. Authority is allowed only to write report. She was not allowed to press charges. However, what is shocking is that the new law does not provide for a fair trial or legal remedies. This means: the officer can write a report about a suspect, but does not have to ask this person or company. Also: Once their statement is written, victims are less likely to object.
Amnesty International: “Law's wording unclear”
Experts say the law is vaguely worded. Amnesty International director David Wick says in an interview: “I'm a lawyer. But the wording of the Act is so vague that I am unable to identify which actions under this Act actually constitute a threat to national independence.”
In his view, the law was deliberately drafted so vaguely that the new power could interrogate anyone and everyone if the government needed to, thereby silencing government critics and the critical media.
Can the new authority take action against critical journalists? It is not clear. Even within the government, the new law is being interpreted differently. Fidesz parliamentary group leader Máté Kocsis and former justice minister say the law also applies to journalists, something Viktor Orbán's cabinet chief denies. This uncertainty is intentional, says Márton Tompos, a member of parliament from the opposition Momentum: “For journalists, the law is the sword of Damocles. In Hungary, the ruling party, Fidesz, decides which media outlets get publicity and which don't. So critical media outlets can often survive only with financial support from abroad. .Government can shut down this media any time.
Why is it being compared to the Russian “Foreign Agents Law”? The law is so vaguely worded that the government can use it to silence any undesirable person. This reminds many of the conditions in Russia. However, it should be emphasized that no journalists in Hungary are currently in prison for their research.
How do people in Hungary feel about the law? For most Hungarians, this law does not seem important. They have other concerns, such as high inflation in the EU. There are currently no protests planned against the new Sovereignty Act. The Act was quietly passed by Parliament on December 13, 2023 without any public debate. Whether the law is relevant or not depends on how the new authority interprets it.
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