Hungary's 'sovereignty protection' office launches investigation into Transparency International | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Hungary's 'sovereignty protection' office launches investigation into Transparency International

Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban listens to Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni during their press point after their meeting at Chigi Palace government office in Rome, Monday, June 24, 2024. Orban is in Rome as part of a trip also taking in Paris and Berlin ahead of his country's duty presidency of the EU starting on July 1. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Original Publication Date June 25, 2024 - 8:31 AM

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A Hungarian authority tasked with defending the nation's sovereignty against foreign influence has launched an investigation into the Hungarian branch of anti-corruption organization Transparency International.

Transparency International Hungary said Tuesday it had received a six-page letter announcing the investigation from Hungary's newly formed Sovereignty Protection Office, which has been condemned by rights groups as a means to stifle dissent.

The authority requested financial and operational information and said it had initiated "a specific and comprehensive investigation” into Transparency International Hungary's activities. The group said it would comply but that it believes the office is unconstitutional.

The Sovereignty Protection Office sprung out of a law passed in December by the nationalist governing party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. It has the power to gather information on any groups or individuals that benefit from foreign funding and influence public debate, and Hungary’s secret services can assist in its investigations.

The government says the legislation was designed to prevent political parties from receiving funding from abroad for election campaigns, as it claims was done by a coalition of six opposition parties before a 2022 parliamentary election that resulted in Orbán handily winning a fourth straight term in power.

But opponents have compared it to Russia’s “foreign agent” law, and said its broad language can be used to arbitrarily target government critics including non-governmental organizations and journalists. Anyone convicted of violation can face prison terms of up to three years.

Later on Tuesday, Hungarian investigative journalism outlet Atlatszo.hu said that it had also received a letter from the sovereignty authority announcing that it too is the subject of a probe. In the letter, the office asked in what ways Atlatszo has cooperated with Transparency International.

In its statement, Transparency International Hungary said it was “no accident” that it had been targeted by the Sovereignty Protection Office.

“We hereby reiterate our position that this law serves the intention of the government to intimidate citizens and civil organizations that are critical of the government, while it is disguised as allegedly protecting national sovereignty,” it said. “This is against the Constitution of Hungary, as well as the fundamental values of the European Union."

Orbán, a champion of what he calls “illiberal democracy,” has long been accused by his domestic opponents and many in the EU of undermining the country's democratic institutions and taking over large swaths of its media.

The EU has frozen over 20 billion euros ($21.5 billion) to Budapest over what it sees as its violations of the bloc's rule-of-law, corruption and democracy standards.

Late last year, independent media outlets and NGOs signed an open letter condemning the sovereignty protection law as a way to silence critics of Orbán’s right-wing government.

The European Commission, which monitors the application of legislation across the 27 EU member countries, in February launched legal action against Hungary over the legislation, saying it “violates several provisions” of the bloc’s law.

Responding to the investigation, Transparency International Hungary said it had filed a constitutional complaint with the country's Constitutional Court, arguing that the sovereignty protection legislation violates the fundamental right to legal remedy as well as to freedom of expression.

“As a non-governmental organization fighting corruption, the success of our investigative, analytical and legal work, and perhaps even our mere existence threatens the regime of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been leading the most corrupt government in the European Union,” the group wrote.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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