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Hungary passes controversial law 'protecting national sovereignty'

Hungary's soveireignty law
Hungary's soveireignty law Copyright Szilard Koszticsak/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund
Copyright Szilard Koszticsak/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund
By AFP
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Hungary's right-wing populist government approved the law to defend against the alleged rise of undue political interference by foreign persons or groups.

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Independent media outlets and rights groups on Wednesday condemned legislation passed by Hungary's right-wing populist government that will allow authorities to investigate and prosecute people accused of undermining the country's sovereignty.

The coalition government made up of the Fidesz and KDNP parties approved the 'Sovereignty Protection Act' on Tuesday. It calls for the creation of a new government authority that will have the power to gather information on any groups or individuals that benefit from foreign funding and that influence public debate.

The measure requires Hungary’s secret services to assist the authority in its investigations and allows prison terms of up to three years for anyone convicted of violating the new law.

Opponents of the legislation have compared it to Russia's “foreign agent” law and say its broad language can be used to arbitrarily target government critics. The country's right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has long been accused of taking over the majority of Hungary's media and building an autocratic political system that undermines democratic norms.

Representatives of 10 independent news outlets signed an open letter decrying the law, saying the Hungarian government had unjustly accused them of "serving foreign interests."

“This is a deliberate lie, which defames not only the newsrooms that do vital work for democracy but also those Hungarians who watch, listen to and read their content,” the outlets wrote, adding that independent newsrooms in Hungary have been transparent and not benefited from “hidden funds or subsidies.”

Hungary's government argues that the law is designed to prevent political parties from receiving funding from abroad for election campaigns, as it claims was done by a coalition of six opposition parties before a 2022 parliamentary election that resulted in Orbán handily winning a fourth straight term in power.

In November, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Hungary's government to retract the bill, saying it "poses a significant risk to human rights and should be abandoned.”

If the law was adopted, Mijatovic wrote at the time, it would provide Hungary's government “with even more opportunity to silence and stigmatise independent voices and opponents.”

A group of Hungarian non-governmental organisations has also condemned the law in a letter signed by seven rights groups, including Amnesty International, Transparency International and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

The groups called the legislation “nothing more than a political propaganda project built upon secret service methods” and charged that it violates Hungary's constitutional, international and EU obligations. They vowed to take legal action against the law and “provide support and assistance to targeted civil communities, activists and media actors.”

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