- The government has criminalised fake news about the pandemic, with penalties of up to five years in prison
- COVID-19 emergency measures allowed Victor Orbán to rule by decree, later revoked
- The state of civic freedoms in Hungary is rated as OBSTRUCTED by the CIVICUS Monitor
Hungary has been added to a watchlist of countries which have seen a rapid decline in fundamental civic freedoms in recent months. Although parliament has voted to end emergency measures, there are concerns that the decree has already left Victor Orban’s government with more power, and set a precedent for further restrictions on free speech.
The new watchlist is released by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
At the end of March, an emergency decree was passed by parliament, which criminalises the spreading of false information in connection with the pandemic. Since the act was passed, police have detained two citizens for social media posts criticising the government, which authorities deemed as pandemic-related fake news. The charges were later dropped, but to date the police have initiated criminal proceedings against nearly 100 people under the recent fake news legal provision.
These criminal proceedings, coupled with regular televised reminders by the government to be mindful of what is shared online, are leading to an atmosphere of intimidation that makes it difficult for journalists to obtain information. When it comes to reporting on the pandemic, medical experts, who could give data about the coronavirus in Hungary, are wary of speaking to the media, and when they do, it is often in an anonymous capacity, which the government can then deem ‘fake news’.
In the coming weeks and months, the CIVICUS Monitor will closely track developments in Hungary, and present evidence to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will hold its 44th Session from 29 June to 17 July, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Hungary is currently rated OBSTRUCTED by the CIVICUS Monitor.
There are a total of 49 countries in the world with this rating (see all). This rating is typically given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders, who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights (see full description of ratings).