Last week, Hungary’s Supreme Court largely rejected an attempt to levy punitive fines on sixteen civil society organizations for opposing a recent referendum to limit public discussions of sexual orientation and transgender issues.
Nevertheless, the court upheld fines against two groups, setting a dangerous precedent for curtailing civil society advocacy.
The referendum, held earlier this month, asked voters leading questions about their support for children’s access to educational and media materials about sexual orientation and transgender issues. It was scheduled alongside national elections, in an apparent attempt to bolster support for the ruling Fidesz party on election day.
Ahead of the vote, the groups urged voters to cast invalid ballots to prevent the referendum from getting enough support to become binding. Their campaign succeeded, as fewer than 50 percent of eligible voters cast valid ballots, and the referendum did not meet the necessary threshold for a binding vote.
The National Election Committee subsequently fined the groups for encouraging invalid votes, arguing that they abused the electoral process.
Hungary’s Supreme Court, the Kuria, rejected that argument in three of the five cases, finding that voters had the right to cast an invalid vote and the organizations had not limited voters’ autonomy to make that choice. In the other two cases, however, another Kuria council upheld the fines against Hatter, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights group, and Amnesty International Hungary. Both groups have said they plan to appeal the decision to Hungary’s Constitutional Court.
The National Election Committee should drop the fines and the government should stop seeking to deter and punish civil society organizations that defend LGBT rights and children’s rights in Hungary. European Union institutions should call out Hungarian authorities for this latest attack on civil society and add it to the long list of rights abuses flouting the European Union’s core values.