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Hungarian charities fear proposed law aims to 'discredit' them

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hungarian charities on Thursday criticised a draft law that would require them to declare foreign funding, saying it would clamp down on freedom of speech and undermine their work with migrants and other vulnerable groups.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban casts his vote on a bill tightening regulations on foreign universities operating in Hungary, effectively pushing out of the country Central European University, a school founded by U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros, in Budapest, Hungary, April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party said it would present a bill to parliament this week requiring non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with a yearly foreign income of 7.2 million forints ($25,000) to register with authorities.

The bill said “foreign interest groups” could use their funding of local NGOs to “pursue their own interests” in Hungary, threatening the country’s political and economic interests.

“This is an attempt to discredit NGOs in the eyes of the public,” said Anikó Bakonyi, project manager at human rights watchdog, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

The Fidesz party announcement came a day after parliament approved a law that could force out a university founded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros, despite protests against the move and condemnation abroad.

Orban, a critic of liberal civil organisations which receive grants from Soros’ Open Society Foundation, said last week the Central European University had violated regulations in awarding diplomas, an allegation the college rejects.

European lawmakers have demanded disciplinary action against Hungary over the crackdown on foreign universities, the latest step by Orban to subdue independent institutions - including the judiciary, central bank, NGOs and media.

Goran Buldioski, the Hungarian-based director of the Soros-funded Open Society Initiative for Europe, said he expected small civil society organisations would suffer the most.

“This is a long term policy the government have taken for a while in order to eradicate all voices that speak freely,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We find it totally unnecessary, stigmatising and discriminatory.”

($1 = 291.2400 forints)