Open Society turns to human rights court over Hungary's 'Stop Soros' law

The Open Society Foundations are calling on Europe’s highest human rights court to act against Hungary over its so-called Stop Soros laws, which “criminalize and tax the work of independent civil society groups, under the pretext of controlling migration".
In an application before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, Open Society argues that the recent legislation breaches the guarantees of freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and must be repealed.

The complaint also argues that the legal provisions 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.

There is only one thing this legislation will stop, and that’s democracy. The Hungarian government has fabricated a narrative of lies to blind people to the truth: that these laws were designed to intimidate independent civil society groups, in another step towards silencing all dissent

, said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations.

Open Society’s ECHR application addresses amendments to Hungary’s criminal code, that took effect on 1 July 2018, which make it a criminal offense for an individual or an organization to offer support - including legal advice, or support asylum or residence applications - to migrants or refugees entering Hungary. It also challenges a new 25% tax on funding for activities and organizations that “promote or positively portray migration."

“These measures expose a broad range of legitimate activities to the risk of criminal prosecution, including preparing and distributing information and providing legal advice on migrants’ rights, activities protected under European and international law," commented Daniela Ikawa, the lead lawyer on the case.

“Open Society is filing cases before the Constitutional Court and the ECHR on the same day, rather than awaiting a response from the Hungarian courts, because of the current and ongoing damage being done by the legislation and because Hungary’s courts have become increasingly reluctant to challenge the government," Open Society said.

The legislation is the latest attack by the Hungarian government on freedom in Hungary. The government has undermined judicial independence, tamed the media, and now seeks to silence civil society groups, which are among the last critical public voices left in Hungary, the Foundation said in a statement.

Citing "an increasingly repressive political and legal environment" in Hungary, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations announced in mid-May moving their Budapest-based international operations and staff to Berlin. OSF is one of the world’s largest financiers of non-governmental organisations working in Hungary since 1984.

Click here for a factsheet of the OSF’s work in Hungary.

There are four ongoing infringement procedures against Hungary:
  • On July 19, 2018, the European Commission launched the first step of infringement proceedings by sending a letter of formal notice concerning the Stop Soros law.
  • In December 2017 and July 2018 the Commission took the final step in the infringement process and referred three cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union: (1) the 2017 NGO law that requires civil society organizations to declare themselves as ‘foreign funded,’ (2) the 2017 case on the Higher Education Law that targets the Central European University, and (3) the 2015 Asylum laws.
  • Also, members of the European Parliament voted on September 12 by a two-thirds majority to pursue proceedings against Hungary through the Article 7 process.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), a Budapest-based human rights organization that receives some of its funding from the Open Society Foundations, filed two applications before the ECHR over these same two laws on 19 September.

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