Public hearing is next step in the fight against the stigmatization of Hungarian civil society actors

The action against the act stigmatizing Hungarian civil society organizations has entered a new phase: on 22 October the Court of Justice of the European Union will conduct a public hearing on the case.

The act promulgated in the summer of 2017 prescribes that civil society organizations receiving over 7.2 million Hungarian Forints (approximately 21 thousand Euros) have to register as organizations supported from abroad and should be identified as such on their respective websites’ home pages and in their publications. Furthermore, they must name their foreign supporters in their yearly reports. Organizations failing to meet this obligation may be liable to fines of up to 900 thousand Forints (approximately 2,700 Euros) or even be subjected to a legal supervision procedure that can result in the closure of the organization. Similar laws have been adopted in Israel and Russia.

On 14 July 2017, the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary because of the “Act on the transparency of organizations supported from abroad,” known as the “Civil Act.” Not having received a satisfactory response from the Hungarian government, the European Commission asked the Court of Justice of the European Union to determine whether the law infringes the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Civil Act is unnecessary as the sources and destinations of support are already disclosed in publicly available reports that all civil society organizations have to submit. The act does not contribute to transparency, being, rather, a part of the communication campaign that suggests that organizations receiving foreign support are engaged in activities that are incompatible with the interests of Hungary. Instead of starting a debate with organizations criticizing its work, the Hungarian government wants to silence them by making them wear a label that discredits their views whenever they go public.

This act violates the freedom of expression and the freedom of association and unduly discriminates some civil society organizations. For this reason, Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) - and some other like-minded organizations – had already decided not to comply with the law on the day of its adoption. Said organizations’ management and activities are already entirely public, however, and it is only by not complying with the provisions of the unlawful Civil Act that HCLU and other organizations can seize upon all the available means of redress.

It is an important development that the case continues at the Court of Justice of the European Union, as the Court will not consider the merits of the Civil Act before the Hungarian Constitutional Court brings a judgment, while the Constitutional Court is waiting for the Court of Justice of the European Union to make a decision first. We trust that the Court of Justice of the European Union will reach a decision based upon which the unlawful act stigmatizing civil society organizations will have to be repealed.

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