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Hungary’s Government Strengthens its Anti-NGO Smear Campaign

Draft “Stop Soros” Law Announced Ahead of National Elections in April

People protest in Heroes’ square against a new law that would undermine Central European University, a liberal graduate school of social sciences founded by U.S. financier George Soros in Budapest, Hungary, April 12, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Hungary’s government announced a new draft law ostensibly aimed at curbing “illegal migration” on Wednesday. This in itself isn’t unusual for a European Union government.

But a deeper reading of the bill makes clear that the government’s intent is to impede migration by cracking down on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The draft law requires the registration of any foreign-funded organization deemed to be, “supporting illegal migration,” and would permit authorities to tax their foreign income and even restrict the movement of people associated with them. Given that the government has already accused NGOs working with refugees and migrants of breaking the law, the risk of this law to NGOs is significant.

What’s more, the bill includes provisions that could lead to NGOs – even ones not working with refugees and migrants – losing their public benefit status if they receive more funding from abroad than from Hungary.

The government justifies the bill on the results of its, “national consultation on the Soros plan,” a hatemongering questionnaire that contained lies and distorted half-truths about immigration in Hungary.

A headline in the materials promoting the bill says “Stop Soros” in English, a reference to the Hungarian-born philanthropist whom the government portrays as Hungary’s public enemy number one, claiming he and the European Union want to bring millions of immigrants to Europe.

Last June, Hungary passed a law forcing NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as a foreign-funded organization or face sanctions. The law was criticized by the Council of Europe and is now the subject of European Commission enforcement action as a breach of EU law.

The new measures could further stigmatize NGOs and discourage support for them locally. It could also limit their ability to seek and receive funding at home and internationally. And even if the bill never becomes law, it can serve a different purpose – to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment and mistrust against NGOs critical of the government’s stance on immigration and other issues in the run-up to Hungary’s elections this April.

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