May 24, 2018 / 12:30 PM / in 5 months

Hungary to submit tightened bill on NGOs next week - government

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s government will submit a tougher version of its “Stop Soros” bill to parliament next week, adding criminal penalties for groups accused of financing illegal immigration, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

The legislation, which would empower the interior minister to ban non-government organisations that support migration and are seen as a national security risk, is part of the nationalist right-wing government’s campaign against Soros, a Hungarian-born U.S. financier known for funding liberal causes.

In power since 2010, Orban has increased his control over the media, put allies in charge of once independent institutions and campaigned on a platform of fierce hostility to immigration, policies that have put him into conflict with the European Union, which funds Hungary with billions of euros a year.

Soros has become a hate figure in Hungarian state-controlled media, where the authorities regularly accuse him of a plot to wipe out the country’s culture by flooding it with immigrants, an allegation which Soros has denied.

“The bill has been tightened ... to state that the organisation and financing of illegal migration should be punished,” Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said after a meeting of the government.

Hungary was a major transit route for hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim immigrants entering the European Union in 2015, but virtually none of them tried to stay there, nearly all passing through en route to richer EU countries.

Orban’s government has campaigned stridently against EU plans to require countries to host some asylum seekers resettled from other EU states, calling it a threat to Hungary’s survival as a nation. Hungary’s quota is fewer than 1,300 asylum seekers.

Gulyas said the government would submit amended legislation to parliament next Tuesday, including changes to the criminal code, the law regulating police, the law relating to the borders and the law governing asylum rights.

He did not reveal further details but said experts of the Venice Commission, a panel of constitutional law experts of the human rights body Council of Europe, were in Hungary, holding talks with the government about the legislation.

The “Stop Soros” bill was submitted in its first form to parliament in February. Soros’s pro-democracy foundation said last week that it would shut its office in Budapest and move to Berlin, leaving what it called “an increasingly repressive political and legal environment” in Hungary.

Gulyas also reiterated that the ruling Fidesz party, using its two-thirds majority in parliament, will modify the constitution to ensure that the European Union cannot force the country to accept migrants.

He said the government would make it clear that under the Geneva convention Hungary is willing to grant refugee status to those who are entitled to it — if Hungary is the first safe country they enter.

On the politically sensitive question of the judiciary, Gulyas reiterated that the government planned to set up a new high court to deal with lawsuits concerning public administration.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Peter Graff

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