Amnesty International: Xenophobic campaign makes Hungary a “bleak place”

October 24, 2017

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International | Photo: Flickr/Sebastiaan ter Burg

“They spend large sums of public money on these hate mongering campaigns that they try to confuse the people with, while they don’t fulfill their international obligations regarding refugees.” – Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty visited Budapest and gave a lecture at Central European University. Although unable to meet with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Shetty did manage to give an interview to online daily in which he talked about the NGO law, the border fence and the national consultation.

“There are Hungarian cases many, many times on my desk,” the Amnesty International head remarked. “The refugees’ rights have their roots in European values. And Hungary came to fight as a European Union member at the forefront for the destruction of the whole refugee system.”

Shetty said that in his opinion Orbán plays a key role in the spread of illiberal attitudes within the EU, and cited Poland as an example where the government adopted the Hungarian government’s ideas and methods.

According to Shetty, the explanation for the significant spread of “illiberal democracy” is that it is not just some political party representing this ideology, as in the case of Germany or France, but the prime minister himself. “This encourages a lot of people who think similarly to him in Europe, but has an influence on the developing world as well,” he said.

“When I travel to Africa, Asia, South America, and sit down to negotiate with the leaders there, they ask why I am educating them when we cannot even handle the Hungarian situation.” Shetty didn’t specify the countries or leaders in question.

When asked about the border fence, he appeared to be of two minds. On the one hand, he said that every country has the right to protect its borders. On the other hand, he didn’t see the fence as a good solution, and referred to the more than half a million Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. “I simply cannot believe that the Hungarian government couldn’t deal with the people arriving to the border without the fence.”

Shetty consulted with the Hungarian Amnesty International office regarding the NGO law, as a result of which the Hungarian office decided not to register as a foreign-funded NGO as required by the law. He said the organization is already transparent, and the law is only directed at silencing critical voices, and as such it is discriminatory and unjust, which is why they intend not to follow it.

“It’s a cynical and unacceptable distortion of reality that the people fleeing war would be part of some kind of secret plan,” he said about the government’s anti-immigrant propaganda. “The government’s aggressive, xenophobic campaign makes Hungary a bleak place.”

Shetty became acquainted with the Hungarian government’s latest “national consultation” on the “Soros plan” because the consultation questionnaire names Amnesty International in connection with the case of Ahmed H, a Cypriot national and native of Syria who received a 10-year sentence in a Hungarian court for actions he took crossing Hungary’s southern border in 2015.

The NGO has already rejected the statements written about it in the consultation, and Shetty repeats: “It is a total fabrication what they write about us. They spend large sums of public money on these hate mongering campaigns that they try to confuse the people with, while they don’t fulfill their international obligations regarding refugees.”

The government-tied media bomb people with information and this leads to a situation where public opinion is manipulated, for example against Ahmed H, Shetty said. Ahmed H is already seen as a terrorist without any final court decision declaring that, and thus any procedure against him cannot be fair, he argues.

Topics such as freedom of the press, NGOs and refugees in Hungary can no longer be discussed within European frameworks, said Shetty. Hungary is not likely to leave the EU, and as a member state it cannot sink to Turkey’s or Russia’s level.