Open Society Justice Initiative Challenges Hungarian Constitutional Court Ruling on Anti-NGO Laws
NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations is returning to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to challenge Hungary over laws that criminalize and tax the work of independent civil society groups.
Open Society’s appeal to Europe’s top court comes after the Hungarian Constitutional Court failed to address the rights violations caused by the criminal legislation.
In its application, Open Society argues that the legislation targeting civil society groups, passed by Hungary last year, breaches the guarantees of freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights, and must be repealed.
The legislation includes an amendment to the Hungarian criminal code that makes it illegal for individuals or civil society organizations to support asylum or residence applications. A further measure imposed a 25% tax on donations to organizations deemed to be supporting immigration.
The provisions were entitled the “Stop Soros” package by the government, as part of its vicious smear campaign against the founder and chairman of Open Society, George Soros.
The Foundations are represented before the European Court by lawyers from the Open Society Justice Initiative.
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said: “In addition to the direct impact on the work of those who protect migrant rights, these measures are so broadly written that they will have a far-reaching and chilling effect on the work of civil society far beyond the field of migration.”
Earlier this year, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights found that the laws “exercise a continuous chilling effect on the legitimate work of NGOs... The serious sanctions associated with the legislation have the potential to incur devastating consequences for the work of human rights defenders and NGOs in Hungary.”
Following the introduction of the legislation, Open Society closed down its regional office in Budapest after more than 30 years, citing risks to the safety of its operations given the hostile political and legal environment.
Despite the closure of the regional office, the Open Society Foundations continues to fund civil society groups in Hungary, most recently announcing a €1.1 million grant to support independent arts and culture in Hungary, amid growing concerns over the influence of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party in arts funding decisions.
Goran Buldioski, co-director of the Open Society Initiative for Europe, which directs Hungarian grants, said: “We will remain in solidarity with Hungary’s courageous civil society groups, who are in the vanguard of a Europe-wide struggle to push back intolerance and creeping authoritarianism.”