New year has come with new challenges for HCLU. In the past three months we have worked on many cases to protect civil liberties in Hungary. New impetus was given to the crackdown on independent civil society with the foreign funded organizations law. Let us provide just a short resume of our current activities:
We started a voting rights program, which aims to monitor the parlamental elections and provide legal aid to active citizens. We have developed a toolkit which helps activists to take action, providing them with know-your-rights leaflets, (participatory rights in the elections campaign, voting as well as how to avoid the unwanted access of personal data for campaign purposes). Furthermore, we provide legal aid for people whose political freedoms are violated connected to the elections.
Our colleagues examined hundreds of local regulations last year in order to stop local governments to take unlawful and discriminatory actions against people in poverty. We have filed petitions arguing the unlawfulness of 76 regulations passed by 55 settlements, which were excluding families most in need from social benefits. Such exclusion can be based on arbitrary requirements such as the average height of herbaceous species in their yard or orderly stored firewood. Until this day, 25 regulations have been modified based on our complaint.
We represent the case of Zsigmond Rékasi (16) the student protester whose flat has been searched and computers seized by the police after talking at a public demonstration. The procedure is disproportionate with the accusations of graffiting 5 months earlier and could result in frighten citizens who intend to express their political opinion during demonstrations.
Even before the European Commission could conclude its infringement procedure against the Hungarian government for a previous anti-NGO law, Budapest took up discussion of a new package of laws called 'Stop Soros' to shackle civil society.
This bill is arbitrary and harmful. It is arbitrary because the government seeks to determine what would constitute a problem for the people and who is entitled to solve it. In a democracy, this kind of restriction is unacceptable. Finally, the new act is harmful because removing public-interest status from organisations that receive a majority of foreign support could result in all Hungarian citizens being deprived of free civil assistance.
One year after the vice president of the ruling party declared war against the Hungarian civil society we submitted a joint appeal with thirteen organizations to the European Court of Human Rights, asking the court to declare that the anti-NGO act on "foreign funding" violates fundamental rights.
Similarly to the previous law, we will do everything to stop the new package as well. We are here to stay and protect freedom in Hungary!
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