World Report 2015 - Hungary

Hungary

Rule of law and human rights further deteriorated in 2014. The ruling party won another term in April with a two-thirds majority in Hungary’s single chamber parliament. In a speech to ethnic Hungarians in Romania in late July, Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared his desire to end liberal democracy in Hungary. There was fresh pressure on media and civil society.

The Constitutional Court ruled in May that website operators are responsible for any comments to blog posts or news commentary that violate the media law, hamper free speech, public debate, or Internet freedom.

In a June judgment, the Supreme Court held that ATV, a TV station critical of the government, had violated the media law’s restrictions on commentary by describing the Jobbik party as “far-right” in a newscast. The same month, the editor-in-chief of Origo, an independent news website, was dismissed after publishing a story on alleged misuse of public funds by the prime minister’s cabinet chief.

Neelie Kroes, then-European Commission vice president, stated in July that an advertising tax adopted in June shows that free and plural media remains under threat in Hungary. The tax primarily affects RTL Klub, one of few remaining independent TV channels.

Civil society came under pressure in June when the state audit office conducted surprise inspections of three NGOs that administer foreign donor money, and the government published a list smearing 13 other recipient NGOs, including leading rights groups, as “left-leaning” and “problematic.”

In September, police raided two NGOs that disburse grants, seizing laptops, documents, and servers. In October, the state audit office published a report of its audit of the four grant administering NGOs and 55 others that receive grants, alleging fraud, misappropriation of assets, and other financial irregularities. At time of writing, there were at least two criminal investigations into the alleged financial irregularities.

US President Barack Obama identified Hungary in a September speech about pressure on civil society. In contrast, EU institutions were reluctant to speak out on the issue. 

By November 2014, 234 homeless people were charged with misdemeanors under a local decree banning homeless people from residing habitually in public spaces. At time of writing, there were no reports of homeless people being jailed.

Roma continue to face discrimination and harassment. In May, a Roma house in northeast Hungary was attacked with two petrol bombs. No one was hurt, and police were investigating at time of writing. Two Roma families were evicted in a larger eviction campaign by local government in the city of Miskolc that targeted some 923 Roma.

Hungary signed the Istanbul Convention in May but had yet to ratify it at time of writing. In September, the ECtHR upheld its April ruling finding Hungary in violation of freedom of religion and association for stripping religious groups of their status as churches in 2010.