The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined international observers in criticising proposed anti-terrorism measures in Hungary that could give the government sweeping powers to control Internet and other media content, and restrict movement.
As Amnesty International observed in a report released on Monday, proposed legislation leaked to the media in January and expected to be considered by Parliament later this month would add “terror threat situation” as a ground for invoking near-absolute emergency authority with little oversight, raising dire implications for free expression and other human rights.
Tentatively called the “sixth amendment”, because it would add “terror threat situation” to the five existing grounds in Hungary’s Constitution that allow a state of emergency to be declared, the proposal reportedly identifies a “terror threat situation” as a “significant terror menace” or a “terrorist attack”. However, it neither provides a more comprehensive or detailed definition of those phrases, nor means of review, meaning there are few safeguards to preventing potential abuse.
In the event that a “terror threat situation” is declared, the proposal would allow the executive to implement some 30 measures, many of which are extremely worrisome and could directly threaten press freedom and free expression, in addition to other human rights.
The government could seize broadcasters’ equipment and control media content; suspend the use of telecommunication services and control Internet access and traffic; arbitrarily restrict movement into and throughout the country by foreign nationals; and limit or even prohibit contact or communication with foreigners or foreign organisations.
All of these measures would directly affect the right of journalists and media organisations to work in Hungary and the right of those present in the country to share and receive information. Other problematic provisions would allow the government to prohibit demonstrations and assemblies, impose nation-wide curfews and introduce as-yet undefined “special counter-terrorism measures”.
The proposal would allow the executive alone to invoke a state of emergency for a “terror threat situation” for up to 60 days, which could continue to be extended for an additional 60 days with the approval of two-thirds of Parliament.
IPI said that it was alarmed by the proposal and its potential impact, which follow a troubling decline in press freedom in Hungary in recent years.
“The sweeping nature of the powers granted under this proposal, coupled with the vagueness as to when they could be imposed and the almost complete lack of review, are extremely troubling,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “The potential for misuse is extremely high.
“Hungary’s lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure public safety, but they also are obligated to do so in a way that is proportional to any actual threat. In upholding that responsibility, we urge Hungary’s lawmakers to clearly define when such broad powers may be used, and to ensure that their exercise is subject to independent review that safeguards respect for individuals’ fundamental human rights.”