The newsroom of the European Parliament reports that media freedom, the potential for the EU to monitor the fundamental rights situation in member states, and last summer’s clampdown on Norway Civil Fund administrator Ökotárs Alapítvány were among the main issues raised at a public hearing on human rights in Hungary. The hearing took place on January 22 in the Parliament’s justice committee with representatives of NGOs, international organisations and the Hungarian government in attendance.
Claude Moraes, a British member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialist and Democrats and chair of the justice committee, pointed out that “the European Parliament has to make an effort to ensure that fundamental rights are respected in member states, even if it is one of the most difficult and sensitive tasks.”
Ökotárs director Veronika Móra told the committee that Hungarian NGOs feel that if they speak up they will be intimidated. Her foundation was raided by police and government inspectors last September following allegations of links to the opposition and the mismanagement of funds granted by Norway. The allegations are unfounded, said Móra: “A government body (Government Control Office, KEHI) started investigations without jurisdiction.”
Zoltán Kovács, international spokesperson of the Hungarian government, responded that having a legal dispute with one NGO does not mean the whole sector is threatened.
As usual, Kovács is full of it. Ökotárs leads a consortium of NGOs responsible for administering Norwegian and Swiss civil funds provided to Hungarian NGOs, thirteen of which were audited by the same government body in what was a clear attempt to intimidate civil society in Hungary.
On the issue of media freedom, Attila Mong, editor of investigative journalism portal Atlatszo.hu, warned of threats to plurality: “The public broadcaster shows government propaganda, the advertising tax targets the biggest commercial TV station investigating government corruption, and journalists are experiencing political pressure.”
Speaking at the hearing experts from Amnesty International and the Council of Europe stressed that the EU should play an important role in ensuring that fundamental rights are respected in all member states. With regards to media legislation or constitutional changes, Kovács said the Hungarian government has resolved controversial issues with the relevant EU institutions.
Fidesz and European Peoples Party MEPs reportedly walked out of the hearing upon learning that Veronika Móra had been invited to testify.