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Open Society Foundations Call on European Court of Human Rights to Defend Hungarian Democracy

NEW YORK—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 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guarantees of freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and must be repealed.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,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations. “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.”

The new legislation includes an amendment to the Hungarian criminal code that makes it illegal for individuals or civil society organizations to support asylum or residence applications.

The Open Society Foundations are represented before the European Court by lawyers from the Open Society Justice Initiative, their in-house legal arm.

Daniela Ikawa, the lead lawyer on the case, said: “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.”

In July, the Hungarian Parliament adopted an additional law imposing a 25 percent tax on funding for any activities and organizations that promote or positively portray migration.

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.

In May, Open Society announced that it was closing down its regional office in Budapest after more than 30 years. The decision cited the hostile political and legal environment, which has included a two-year hate campaign by the Hungarian government against the Foundations and their partners.

Jordi Vaquer, head of the Open Society Foundations’ grant giving work in Europe, said: “The Open Society Foundations are saying goodbye to Budapest reluctantly. But we will continue to support Hungary’s courageous civil society groups, who are in the vanguard of a Europe-wide struggle to push back intolerance and creeping authoritarianism.”

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