Hungary's Orban steps up crackdown on critics before vote

FILE -In this Feb. 1, 2018 file photo a poster is seen in Budapest reading: Soros would settle millions from Africa and the Middle East. Stop Soros!. Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban is stepping up efforts to silence civic groups critical of his government ahead of April elections which will likely result in his third consecutive term. Critics fear that a new draft bill nominally meant to stem support for advocates of asylum seekers and migrants will also be used to strengthen the domination of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government and state control over civil society. (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)

Pablo Gorondi

BRUSSELS (AP) — A bill that would impose new regulations on organizations that work with migrants would allow the Hungarian government to target any immigrant rights groups it doesn't like, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Amnesty International said the bill could empower the government to suspend, disband and fine NGOs working on migration. The human rights group called the legislation a "deeply disturbing and unjustified assault on civil society."

The draft legislation, which was submitted to parliament late Tuesday, would impose new operating requirements on civic groups that organize, support or finance migration.

Such groups would need permission from the interior minister for their activities and would have to pay a 25 percent levy on funding received from abroad, among other provisions.

"These proposals have nothing to do with protecting national security or borders, and everything (to do) with muzzling those who work to assist people in need and dare to raise their voices," Amnesty International Europe director Gauri van Gulik said.

The draft legislation is part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's anti-migration campaign. Orban has blamed Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros for wanting to bring millions of migrants into Europe — though Soros has substantially revised his position since saying that a few years ago — and for funding organizations that work with immigrants.

The government has dubbed the bill "Stop Soros."

Leaders of the body that represents international civic groups in the Council of Europe and its advisory group joined in the criticism, saying the effects of the legislation could spread beyond the migration issue.

"Those NGOs targeted do not focus only on migration and refugees. They also provide services to the public affected by other vulnerabilities," said a statement from the Conference of INGOs and its Expert Council on NGO Law. "The draft laws could have the consequence of decreasing the services available for all vulnerable people in Hungary."

Some of the targeted NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, provide legal aid to needy Hungarians as well as asylum-seekers, and advocate for democracy and the rule of law.

The Helsinki Committee described the government's proposed legislation as "not a bill, but a bulldozer."

"The government wants to arbitrarily label, malign and separate from society certain NGOs it dislikes and, eventually, force them to cease their operations."

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