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HUNGARY: NGOs fined for calling for protest votes in anti-LGBT+ rights referendum

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On Sunday 3 April 2022, together with parliamentary elections, Hungarian citizens were called to vote also in a national referendum to validate anti-LGBT+ legislation banning the “portrayal and the promotion of gender identity different from sex at birth, the change of sex and homosexuality” that was introduced last year. As reported by ILGA Europe, this law was decried by a majority of member states of the European Union, and led the European Commission to take infringement procedures against Hungary. Many in Budapest’s LGBT+ community deemed the wording of the questions in the national referendum so biased as well that it targets their community.

After the opposition’s appeal to file protest votes, eventually, the government failed to achieve the necessary number of valid votes in the 3 April referendum: more than 1.6 million of the casted ballots were not valid. On Friday 8 April, the National Electoral Commission (NVB) decided to fine many civil society organisations for their campaigning for protest votes in the referendum, “because it not only undermines but also breaks the constitutional purpose of the direct exercise of power and the legislative will behind it” – a move that aims at silencing CSOs.

Press release published by Amnesty International Hungary on 09/04/2022, unoficially translated from Hungarian by the European Civic Forum

By AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL MAGYARORSZÁG, BUDAPEST PRIDE, EMBERSÉG EREJÉVEL ALAPÍTVÁNY, HÁTTÉR TÁRSASÁG, LABRISZ LESZBIKUS EGYESÜLET, MAGYAR ASZEXUÁLIS KÖZÖSSÉG, MAGYAR HELSINKI BIZOTTSÁG , MAGYAR LMBT SZÖVETSÉG, NOÁR MOZGALOM, ÖKOTÁRS ALAPÍTVÁNY, PRIZMA KÖZÖSSÉG, SZIMPOZION EGYESÜLET, SZIVÁRVÁNYCSALÁDOKÉRT ALAPÍTVÁNY and TÁRSASÁG A SZABADSÁGJOGOKÉRT (TASZ)

More than 1.6 million people on Sunday expressed their disapproval of the government’s manipulative and intimidating referendum. The invalidity of the referendum shows that there is a majority in Hungary who do not support the government’s discriminatory policy. Five days after the government’s propaganda referendum failed miserably, the National Electoral Commission suddenly realised that the months-long campaign was “breaking the constitutional purpose of the direct exercise of power”.

The NVB imposed an additional fine of 176,400 HUF on 16 non-governmental organisations, including those that did not take part in the campaign to promote an invalid referendum, and an additional fine of 3-3 million HUF on the two main organisers of the campaign, Amnesty International Hungary and Háttér Society.

The fine of nearly 9 million HUF is aimed at silencing the huge community that, exercising its right to free expression, has overthrown the government’s propaganda referendum in a democratic way.

The NVB also emphasised the importance of allowing citizens to participate directly in the decision-making process on the country’s most important issues through a referendum. On Sunday, people said directly, through a referendum: enough of Putin’s propaganda, enough of incitement to hatred! The consequence of the referendum is clear: Putin’s propaganda law must be repealed. The illegal decision of the NVB reveals one thing: it is no longer enough to “just” hide the invalidity of the referendum, the government is scared and now wants to silence those who have invalidated its homophobic and transphobic campaign with fines.

We don’t let ourselves be intimidated. It is clear that they are trying to silence us because of the success of the campaign and the civil society. We will challenge the NVB’s decision in the Curia, this apparently illegal fine will fail”, said Dávid Vig, Director of Amnesty International Hungary.

The last few months have shown what we can do together. The invalidity of the referendum has given hope to many people. We will not let this be taken away from us. We will continue to work for a safe and free Hungary for everyone”, said Dudits Luca, Director of Háttér Society.