Despite an intense international and national outcry the Hungarian Parliament with a two third majority on March 30 approved Bill T/9790 extending indefinitely the Covid-19 Protection Act allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree, effectively with no political oversight.

Beyond granting Prime Minister Orban the right to rule by decree it also provides new tools to suppress media and public, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee states: “the law creates two new crimes. Anyone who publicizes false or distorted facts that interfere with the “successful protection” of the public – or that alarm or agitate that public – could be punished by up to five years in prison. Anyone who interferes with the operation of a quarantine or isolation order could also face a prison sentence of up to five years, a punishment that increases to eight years if anyone dies as a result.”

Countless international actors and institutions including the Commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe, Council of Europe Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties have expressed deep concern about the Hungarian measures. At national level civil society has warned of the consequences of a rule by decree and 100,000 people have joined online protests.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee stated after the vote:Calls to enact clearly necessary constitutional guarantees (a sunset clause, well-defined mandate, easy access to and a short time-limit for in-merit decisions of the Constitutional Court) were ignored, although these would have made the government’s proposal acceptable for the political opposition and international stakeholders. This is a missed opportunity when in the current COVID-19 crisis the Hungarian government stresses the importance of national unity. It is also difficult to understand why the government did not make any reasonable compromises if, as it claims, it has no intentions to exploit the unlimited mandate given by the law.”

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Photo: (CC) European People’s Party, November 2018

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.