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Hungary: progress needed on media freedom, anti-discrimination measures and migrants’ rights

Report on visit to Hungary
Strasbourg 16/12/2014
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Isola shelter for homeless people, Budapest, Hungary

Isola shelter for homeless people, Budapest, Hungary

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“Hungary should better ensure media freedom, combat widespread intolerance and discrimination, and improve the protection of the human rights of migrants” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing a report based on the findings of his July visit to Hungary.

While welcoming improvements to Hungary’s media legislation introduced since the adoption of a restrictive media package in 2010, the Commissioner remains concerned that media in Hungary suffer from an inadequate legal framework and political pressures. “The mere existence of some provisions, such as severe sanctions, chills media freedom and pushed a number of media outlets towards self-censorship.” The extensive administrative regulatory powers of the Media Council coupled with its vulnerability to political influence and control also remain problematic.  Moreover, measures such as the tax on advertising revenues and restrictions on political advertising threaten media pluralism. “Urgent action is needed to improve media freedom, including by repealing or reformulating the provisions of the Media Act on opinion and political views; extending the protection of sources to freelance journalists; excluding print and online media from the registration requirements; strengthening the independence of media regulatory bodies; and decriminalising defamation.”

Though Hungary reinforced its legislation and practice to combat hate crimes and hate speech, Commissioner Muižnieks is concerned at the deterioration of the situation as regards racism and intolerance, in particular targeting Roma, Jews, LGBTI persons, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as the poor and homeless persons. “A worrying dimension of this problem is the visible presence of extremist organisations and their links with a political party (Jobbik) represented in parliament whose members are known for using anti-Roma and antisemitic rhetoric. The Hungarian authorities should combat intolerance and discrimination more resolutely, including by better investigating the possible racial motivation of offences and by imposing appropriate sanctions against individuals and groups who advocate or commit acts of racist violence, incite racial hatred and oppose the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law.”

The fight against all forms of discrimination also needs to be strengthened. Roma access to education, decent housing and employment must be improved. Urgent progress is also necessary to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. “The authorities should stop placements of persons with disabilities in institutions and avoid opening new, even if smaller, institutions. They should move resources from institutions to individualised support services”, said the Commissioner, noting that, with many people placed under guardianship in Hungary, their right to make decisions was also not guaranteed in accordance to human rights standards. It is also disappointing that progress made in fighting intolerance and discrimination against LGBTI persons has been marred by attempts to ban the gay pride and by risks to the safety of its participants, which required police cordons.

The Commissioner also expresses concern at measures taken to prohibit rough sleeping and construction of huts and shacks in Budapest and other cities which have widely been described as criminalising homelessness in practice. He urges the Hungarian authorities to review the restrictive regulations and investigate reported cases of forced evictions without alternative solutions and of children being taken away from their families on the grounds of poor socio-economic conditions. He also stressed that Hungarian authorities should develop a national social housing strategy adapted to the needs of homeless persons.

Another issue of concern is the extensive use of detention of asylum seekers. In spite of legislative improvements introduced in 2013, around 25% of asylum seekers were detained at the time of the Commissioner’s visit. “The authorities should use alternatives to detention more frequently and improve the asylum detention regime which is still characterised by arbitrariness and lack of effective judicial review. Detaining asylum seekers must be a measure of last resort, for the shortest possible period of time and based on individual assessments.” Moreover, noting that the law still allows the detention of asylum seeking families with children, the Commissioner called for this provision to be repealed. In his view, “no children, whether alone or with  their families, should be subjected to immigration detention”.

Lastly, while commending Hungary’s efforts to combat statelessness, the Commissioner notes that the existing limitations which prevent persons unlawfully residing in Hungary from applying for stateless status is in breach of Hungary’s international obligations under the 1954 UN Convention and should be removed. He also calls on the authorities to remove the obstacles which may impede children from acquiring a nationality.

Read the report on the visit to Hungary

Read the comments of the Hungarian Authorities on the report on the visit to Hungary

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