Hungary: Concerns over attempt to limit protests

New bill could enable officials to ban rallies not given a permit, prompting criticism from rights groups.

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    Policemen stand guard during a protest against the Hungarian government [File: Lisi Niesner/Reuters]
    Policemen stand guard during a protest against the Hungarian government [File: Lisi Niesner/Reuters]

    Rights groups have sounded the alarm over recent moves to limit the legal parameters of holding protests in Hungary.

    Sponsored by Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, legislation introduced on Tuesday could ban participation in rallies or assemblies that have not been granted a permit, although it allows for rare exceptions.

    The bill proposes barring carrying weapons, wearing military garb and covering faces during such events, among other restrictions, according to the local Daily News Hungary.

    Rallies could be prevented if they infringe on the "rights to privacy or the protection of their family, home, human dignity, or the dignity of the Hungarian nation, or of national, ethnic, racial or religious communities", according to the bill's text.

    The Hungarian government's international communications office directed Al Jazeera to a justice ministry statement that said: "The new bill is based on the German model, respects and guarantees the freedom of assembly, and regulates the exercise of the freedom of assembly on the basis of a modern approach, in accordance with the relevant international standards." 

    The office declined to comment further.

    Todor Gardos, a Human Rights Watch researcher for Eastern Europe and the Balkans, described the proposal as "very concerning".

    "You have to see this proposal in the context of other attempts to limit freedom of expression," he told Al Jazeera.

    "This context is important. Anything that would give more discretion to police [or authorities] to ban a protest would be worrying."

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    The new proposal comes amid heightened concern from the European Union and civil society groups about what they see as a crackdown on NGOs and political dissent.

    'Free expression impacts everyone'

    Earlier this month, the Hungarian government passed a law that criminalises aiding refugees and migrants who irregularly entered the country.

    Dubbed the "Stop Soros" package, the move was one of many decried as an attempt to limit the capacity and function of NGOs and others working with refugees and migrants.

    Separately, a 25-percent tax was placed on NGOs that aid refugees and migrants

    "In the context of the courts also weakening, you can in a way anticipate that there is a negative effect on these freedoms," Gardos said.

    "Other laws being passed restrict the works of NGOs, but of course, assembly laws are much broader and free expression impacts everyone."

    In April, stridently anti-migrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban's was re-elected, and his right-wing Fidesz party gained a super-majority in the parliament.

    During his campaign, Orban promised to stop the flow of refugees and migrants into the Central European country and decried the so-called "Islamisation" of Europe.

    He also took aim at George Soros, after whom the "Stop Soros" package was named, claiming that the Hungarian American billionaire and philanthropist was attempting to undermine Hungary's sovereignty.

    Open Society Foundations, the group founded by Soros, recently announced its plans to leave Hungary, citing "repressive" conditions. 

    Nora Koves, a human rights expert at the Budapest-based Eotvos Karoly Policy Institute, said the new proposal is likely to be passed, citing Fidesz's two-thirds majority in the parliament.

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    "The problem is that they could basically stop any protest they wanted to," she told Al Jazeera by telephone, arguing that it is part of a broader process of targeting NGOs, the judiciary and the right to assemble.

    "I think Orban is pushing far-right policies to [test] the European Union as well."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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