a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, who were active and expressed a wide range of views. There were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech” and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) topics (see section 6). The government targeted the mobile phones of several investigative journalists with foreign spyware (see section 1.f.).
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Election Observation Mission Final Report from July noted that “the pervasive bias in the news and current affairs programs of the majority of broadcasters, combined with extensive government advertising campaigns, provided the ruling party with an undue advantage.” It also noted that extensive government advertisement campaigns, paid from the state budget, reinforced the main campaign messages of the Fidesz Party, further blurring the lines between the state and the party, and providing Fidesz with an undue advantage, contrary to OSCE standards.
In March 2020, as part of the government’s legislative package declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament amended the criminal code to increase the penalty for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” (“scaremongering”) that could obstruct or prevent successful protection under a special legal order to imprisonment of up to five years (see section 3 for more on the state of emergency).
The European Commission’s 2022 Rule of Law Report asserted that access to public information was hindered under the “state of emergency” legislation, which allowed authorities to delay access to public data by up to 90 days. On January 27, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not bar journalists from reporting from within hospitals during the pandemic, and individual hospital directors had the authority to decide about press access requests. A few days later the government passed a decree that bypassed the ruling, determining that only the government’s operational board in charge of managing the pandemic could decide on press accreditation and access.
Freedom of Expression: Criminal law provides that any person who incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The law prohibits the public denial of, expression of doubt regarding, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes; such crimes are punishable by up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits, as a misdemeanor, the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star, in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. The media law also prohibits media content intended to incite hatred or violence against specific minority or majority communities and their members. The law includes the provision that media content must not have the potential to instigate an act of terrorism.
A 2018 law that imposes a 25 percent tax on civil entities that aid or promote immigration remained in force. Several NGOs criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions that are different from that of the government (see section 5). According to press reports, no entity had paid any tax during the year under the law, and no known tax office investigation or audit had been conducted to that effect.
Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some legislative restriction on LGBTQI+ content (see section 6).
The 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor continued to rate transparency of media ownership as high risk. The 2022 Rule of Law Report noted that the establishment of the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) media conglomerate in November 2018 had a significant negative impact in the market for daily regional newspapers and radio, as well as on the distribution and printing market. Therefore, the 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor continued to rate media concentration and state advertising in the country as high risk. The ODIHR Election Observation Mission Final Report from July noted that the distribution of government advertising funds to media outlets mainly benefitted outlets supporting the government, at times becoming their main source of revenue. Some journalists continued to face difficulties when accessing members of government and events and press conferences of government and government-linked entities, thus depriving them of free and fair access to public officials to ask them challenging questions. Parliamentary press regulations restricted the movement and work of journalists in parliament to a small cordoned off area. Since November 2021, the area surrounding the office of the prime minister where reporters could access cabinet members was closed.
The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president, who is nominated by the prime minister, serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. The 2022 Media Pluralism Monitor registered as high risk the independence and effectiveness of the NMHH.
The Media Council consisted exclusively of persons named by the governing parties. Some experts criticized the Media Council’s radio-frequency-awarding practices for allegedly penalizing radio stations that were critical of the government. The case of the Media Council’s 2020 refusal to renew the broadcasting license of independent radio station Klubradio based on its alleged failure to comply with certain administrative obligations remained pending at the European Court of Justice. In its July referral to the court, the European Commission argued that the refusal was “disproportionate” and “non-transparent.” In April, the Media Council refused to renew the license of independent radio station Tilos Radio due to alleged “technical violations.” Tilos Radio vowed to resubmit its application, and if rejected, to continue broadcasting online as Klubradio did. Tilos Radio’s license expired on September 3 but the radio won it back in the subsequent application process.
The state news agency, MTI, which offers its services free of charge, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government. There were also concerns as to public service media’s editorial independence and its role in amplifying disinformation by third parties. Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, a security expert from a progovernmental institute complimented Russian forces on M1 public television channel for advancing “calmly and professionally” and another expert said Russia was acting because Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted a “neutral” and “pro-Ukrainian” government in Kyiv. In March, human rights organization Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and think tank Political Capital filed a joint complaint with the European Commission, asserting that the public service media broadcaster used Russian propaganda as a source despite EU measures against Russia Today and Sputnik. In April, without investigation, the Media Council rejected all complaints that public media was broadcasting Russian propaganda.
Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media portrayed journalists asking challenging questions as “political actors” spreading “fake news” in service of the political opposition. The government has long portrayed Hungarian-American businessman/philanthropist George Soros as the mastermind behind numerous purported plots against the country, claiming certain media outlets were under his influence. The anti-Soros campaign has antisemitic overtones, as the prime minister and others link Soros and the purported plots to “shadowy globalist forces,” a common antisemitic trope. For instance, in his annual State of the Nation speech on February 12, the prime minister said protecting the country from the “rule of law Jihad of Brussels” and the “agents of George Soros” who pushed the liberal agenda of global networks and institutions was at stake in the elections.
In June, dozens of diplomatic cables released in response to a freedom of information lawsuit showed how Hungarian embassies throughout Europe monitored the activities of independent Hungarian journalists and journalism students on study and training trips abroad.
In November government-close Magyar Nemzet reported that the National Tax Authority was conducting an investigation into a company owned by Zoltan Varga, owner of Central Media Group that runs, among others, independent political online news site 24.hu and popular women’s magazines. The investigation was launched following allegations that the businessman caused harm to the EU budget by selling a company partly created with European funds at a price below market. Varga told Politico in December that the accusations against him were false and based on illegally obtained data and argued that the legal case represented a new form of intimidation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions for Members of the Press and Other Media, including Online Media: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or government authorities.
The law mandates that public service media providers pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were often disregarded. Leaked emails and recordings reported in March showed reporters were given orders on how to report on issues such as migration, the EU, and the opposition, and described an established system of censorship and external approval of editorial content. During the 2022 election campaign, public media news broadcasts portrayed the opposition parties in a negative light or ignored them. United opposition prime ministerial candidate Peter Marki-Zay was given a total of five minutes of live airtime during the run-up to the election while clips of speeches by Prime Minister Orban were regularly televised.
The Media Council may impose monetary fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The Council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($500,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent the implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.
In June the Budapest Court of Appeals ruled that independent commercial TV station RTL Klub did not violate the law by the daytime airing of a public service advertisement featuring LGBTQI+ representative families, overturning the February decision of the Media Council.
Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts. According to a freedom of information request published in February, government-aligned media lost 54 libel lawsuits and independent media lost five lawsuits in 2021.
In July the Constitutional Court confirmed the Curia’s ruling that identified misconduct from the public media when it failed to check facts behind false statements made by the Youth Christian Democratic Alliance against Menedek – Hungarian Association for Migrants in 2018. The public broadcasting service argued that as a media outlet it was not obliged to provide objective news production and verify facts behind stories. Opposition politicians and government-critical private individuals sued government-aligned media outlets in several cases. Courts tended to pass verdicts that protected private individuals from libel or slander by government-affiliated media and their reporters. Public media channel M1, government-aligned news site 888.hu, and government-aligned media publisher Mediaworks lost a lawsuit by joint opposition prime ministerial candidate Peter Marki-Zay over their claim that the politician wanted to “downsize” the health system in the countryside.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet and generally did not censor online content. There were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Experts pointed out, however, that formal approvals of secret surveillance activities against citizens were relatively easy to obtain (see section 1.f.).
In cooperation with internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to store and cooperate in the implementation of court rulings and tax authority resolutions to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation.
Restrictions on Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
In 2021 the government set up several “public interest asset management foundations” and transferred billions of dollars of state assets to oversee the management of public universities, also allowing holders of public office to sit on the board of trustees of such foundations (see section 4). According to experts, this university model change increased the threat of political influence on academic issues and decreased the autonomy of universities. Transparency watchdogs noted that the law transferred powers from the university leaderships to the foundation boards, including decisions on the universities’ budgets, operational rules, and annual reports, and the boards also had a say in the appointment of rectors.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, with some exceptions.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution includes a provision on the protection of privacy, which stipulates that freedom of expression and the exercise of the right to assembly shall not harm others’ private and family life and their homes, potentially restricting protests in public spaces near politicians’ homes and protests in other public spaces that have apartments nearby. The law also permits the government to regulate public demonstrations, including holding organizers liable for damages caused by their events, and to ban protests in advance. Under the law authorities may ban or dissolve gatherings that unnecessarily and disproportionately harm the “dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, or religious community.” The law also criminalizes the nonviolent disturbance or impediment of a demonstration.
The criminal code provides that harassment of “official persons” (including members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors) when they are not performing public duties is a crime punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
In February the government issued a decree that effectively banned teachers’ strikes (see also section 7.) Since then, hundreds of teachers took part in “civil disobedience,” and more than a dozen teachers were dismissed from their jobs for their participation effective immediately as of December. On December 7, the Constitutional Court upheld the limitations on teachers’ right to strike.
In August police fined participants protesting against a change to the small business tax code, allegedly for obstructing traffic by walking too slowly in a crosswalk.
Freedom of Association
A 2021 law mandated the State Audit Office (SAO) to annually report on NGOs that had an annual budget greater than 20 million forints ($66,000) and were “capable of influencing public life.” Sports, religious, and national minority organizations were exempted (see section 5).
A 2011 law on religion deregistered more than 300 religious groups and organizations that had previously held incorporated church status; most were required to reapply for registration. The government has not approved any applications for incorporated church status since it amended the law in 2012, but it approved many applications for a lesser status of religious organizations. In 2019 an amendment to the law entered into force creating four different statuses for religious organizations. Observers noted that while the amendment provides a simpler procedure for religious entities to gain an intermediate-level status, it only restores some of the rights those religious groups could exercise before 2011.
e. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with and provided the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to refugees and asylum seekers, apart from those held in detention under the aliens policing procedure.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum and establishes a procedure for asylum seekers outside the country to apply for it. International and domestic organizations, however, stated that the legal framework undermined the effective access to territory and asylum for those fleeing wars and persecution.
Since June 2020, asylum seekers must first make a declaration of intent stating their wish to apply for asylum at a Hungarian embassy outside the EU – limited to Serbia and Ukraine – and be issued a special entry permit to Hungary for the purpose of applying for international protection. The country’s asylum authority has 60 days to examine the statement of intent and make a proposal to the embassy whether to issue the asylum seeker the special single-entry travel permit to enter Hungary. If the permit is issued, the asylum seeker must travel on their own to Hungary within 30 days of issuance and, upon arrival, immediately identify themselves to the border guards who present them to the asylum authority within 24 hours. Those not granted the special single-entry permit at one of the embassies in advance may not request asylum in the country. During this process, the asylum seeker is not entitled to accommodation or any support services and is not entitled to or given any legal protection.
Based on information acquired by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee through freedom of information requests there were 21 asylum applications between January and June. In July 2021, the European Commission referred the country to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for unlawfully restricting access to asylum procedures.
As a matter of policy, all third country nationals who do not have the right to remain in the country (e.g., through a valid visa or residence permit), regardless of where they are located, are “escorted” by authorities, including the police, to the other side of the fence along the border with Serbia. In December 2020 the ECJ declared this practice, known as pushbacks, to be in violation of EU law. The practice continued, regardless.
In December 2021, the Constitutional Court, in reaction to this binding ECJ ruling, stated that the government had the right to “apply its own measures” related to migrants and asylum seekers under certain circumstances.
In September the government extended by another six months the “crisis situation due to mass migration,” which authorizes police to automatically remove (pushback) any third country national intercepted for unlawfully entering or staying in the country. The government first introduced the “crisis situation due to mass migration” in certain counties near the Serbian border in 2015 in response to the Mediterranean migration crisis, and broadened it to the whole country in 2016, also authorizing the armed forces to assist police at the borders to prevent entry of migrants and asylum seekers. There is an ongoing infringement procedure launched by the European Commission in 2020 for widely exempting the application of EU public procurement rules related to migration during the “crisis situation.” Infringement procedures are legal actions intended to take action against an EU country that fails to implement or comply with EU law and may involve financial penalties.
Refoulement: Based on information gathered from the national police website there were 143,843 pushback measures implemented and 97,634 cases of prevented entry between January and November. In October 2021, the ECHR issued a judgement in the first case involving a pushback. The court ruled that pushbacks carried out by the country under a domestic regulation were in breach of the prohibition of collective expulsions.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Testimonies from patients and corroborating medical data from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) from August indicated use of violence, allegedly committed by Hungarian authorities, against persons crossing the border between Serbia and Hungary. Beatings with belts and batons, kicking, punching, various forms of humiliation, use of pepper spray and teargas were reported to be common deterrence practices, prior to pushbacks and denial of assistance.
Domestic human rights NGOs reported that their attorneys had difficulties in maintaining contact with foreigners kept in aliens policing or asylum detention facilities.
Freedom of Movement: The asylum provisions prescribed the automatic “placement of the applicant in a closed facility” for four weeks following the registration of their asylum request, without any remedy to challenge the placement. After four weeks, the applicant may either be placed in an open facility or in detention, with a legal remedy available against a detention decision. There were no reports of the legal remedy being exercised, however. The law permits the detention of rejected asylum seekers under an aliens policing procedure for a maximum of 12 months, or for eight months under asylum detention in certain cases of pending asylum applications. The detention of individuals accused of immigration offenses generally took place in designated immigration detention centers.
Access to Basic Services: The National Directorate-General for Aliens Policing (the asylum authority) has 60 days to make a proposal to the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade or Kyiv on whether to grant an asylum seeker a single-entry permit. During this time, the asylum seeker is not entitled to accommodation or any support services and is not entitled to any legal protection.
The law limits benefits and assistance to persons given international protection on the grounds they should not have more advantages than citizens. Authorities do not provide housing allowances, educational allowances, or monthly cash allowances to asylum seekers, refugees, or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. Asylum seekers have the right to work after nine months have passed since they began the asylum procedure, but a work permit, which is good for a year and may be renewed, must be requested on their behalf by an employer, and can only be obtained from the local employment office. Asylum seekers can only apply for jobs that are not taken by citizens or nationals from the European Economic Area. The government did grant temporary benefits and assistance to Afghan individuals airlifted by the Hungarian forces in August 2021, and individuals remaining in Hungary have received temporary benefits and residence cards.
In November 2021, the ECJ ruled that the legislation that criminalized assistance to asylum seekers infringed on EU law. The government did not comply with the ruling as of December.
Durable Solutions: Refugees are allowed to naturalize, but according to civil society organizations, the applications of refugees and stateless persons were approved at a lower rate than those of other naturalization seekers. There were no reported cases of onward refugee resettlement from the country to other states.
Temporary Protection: The law provides for a specific temporary protected status for situations of mass influx. Under the law all forms of international protection (refugee status, subsidiary protection, tolerated stay, stateless status, etc.) are temporary by nature, with periodic review of the entitlement to protection.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, the government issued a decree granting temporary protection to Ukrainian citizens and persons who were living in Ukraine as recognized refugees and their family members. The status provided residency rights, access to housing, social welfare assistance, medical care, legal guardianship and safe care for unaccompanied children under 18, access to education for children under 18, and access to jobs (with some restrictions).