European rights bodies rap Hungary's 'Stop Soros' bill, Budapest defiant

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Two leading European rights bodies have told Hungary that its “Stop Soros” bill criminalizing help to illegal immigrants is “arbitrary” and vague, unduly threatens non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and violates European law.

In a June 15 draft report seen by Reuters, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave a detailed opinion on a bill that Hungary’s parliament is expected to approve on Wednesday.

Under the draft law, individuals or groups who help migrants not entitled to protection to submit requests for asylum or who help illegal migrants gain status to stay in Hungary will be liable to jail.

The bill “criminalizes activities that are fully legitimate,” the two European bodies wrote in their report.

The Venice Commission, a Council of Europe expert body which advises on constitutional matters, has asked Hungary to await the final report it will probably adopt later this week.

But Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, speaking during a visit to Stockholm, angrily dismissed the criticism in the report and said the bill would be approved on Wednesday.

Hungary’s Finance Ministry also joined the fray on Tuesday, announcing plans to introduce a 25 percent special tax on aid groups which support migration.


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party was re-elected with a two-thirds parliamentary majority in April after a campaign attacking U.S. billionaire George Soros and liberal NGOs he supports. Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration in order to undermine Europe, a charge Soros denies.

Orban, in power since 2010, has led eastern European resistance to EU plans to share out some of the large numbers of mostly Muslim migrants who have arrived on the continent since 2015. He says they threaten Europe’s Christian civilisation.

The Hungarian leader has said “Stop Soros” will be among the first bills to pass the new parliament, along with a constitutional change which says no “alien population” can be settled in Hungary - a jab at the EU’s migrant quota plan.

The European Commission, the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner and the Venice Commission have “formed the pro-immigration union of George Soros,” Szijjarto told public television. “Hungary’s government fights against pressure from international forces.”

In the 25-page draft, the Venice Commission and the OSCE said the bill “may result in further arbitrary restrictions... of the indispensable work of human rights NGOs and leave migrants without essential services provided by such NGOs”.

The draft bill “lacks the requisite precision... (it) is not in line with European standards,” the bodies wrote.

The Venice Commission proposed exempting humanitarian aid, advocacy and campaigning activities from criminal sanctions.

“Only explicitly encouraging migrants to circumvent the law should give rise to criminal prosecution,” the draft said, adding any law should state clearly that NGO help is not a crime and that money the NGOs receive does not fund criminal acts.

Additional reporting by Daniel Dickson in STOCKHOLM; Editing by Gareth Jones