Emboldened Orbán Attacks Courts, Civil Society, Freedom of Assembly, Privacy, and Humanity

Now that Orbán awarded himself another two-third majority in parliament, he had lost every tolerance for limitations on his will. In his first legislative move he is planning to change his own constitution, crack down on civil society, eliminate the last independence of the courts, and destroy even the pretense that ordinary citizens might have a right to privacy. Oh, and he pushes forward with the world’s most inhumane law threatening people with jail for helping someone in need.


Attack on courts

The only reason the courts are still relatively independent is that Fidesz lost its supermajority mid-term in 2015, and couldn’t push it through as it was blocked by the Constitutional Court in 2016. But worry no more, Orbán granted himself another 4 years of uncontrolled power (he actually said he is planning until 2030) and quickly promised to use it to eliminate the pesky courts (and other remnants of a free society).

The courts will be circumvented (in first step) by setting up a parallel court system called Supreme Administrative Court where all the politically sensitive cases (and cases where the government is involved) will be handled by newly minted Fidesz judges.

They branded it as a great historic triumph against communism to silence most criticism. It always works.

“Today we have an opportunity to set the goal of creating an independent Supreme Administrative Court – which was abolished by the communist party state in 1949 – with which we can repay a historical debt.”

–Justice minister Trócsányi about the Supreme Administrative Court

You could clearly see Orbán’s frustration with court rulings, even in petty cases when courts ruled the obvious, or when they made Fidesz-media publish lame corrections about some of their outright lies.

„I think the Curia has taken a mandate away from our constituents with this decision, and the Curia has clearly and gravely intervened in the elections. While studying the doctrine of the Constitutional Court, it is obvious: the Curia was not intellectually up to its task.“ 

–PM Viktor Orbán about the court decision about absentee voting

These days, Orbán is going around complaining about “judicial governance“, by which he means that court decisions are above him and that must not happen because he is the will of the people. The separation of powers does not even feature in his rants.

New justice minister Trócsányi’s interview in a Fidesz paper about this issue was so important for the government that they translated it for the official government site,

“It is important to clarify the role of judges because if judges re-interpret the law or put an extensive construction on a term or concept which is contrary to that intended by the legislator, it leads to judicial governance, which is profoundly anti-democratic, Justice Minister László Trócsányi spoke about this in an interview given to the newspaper Magyar Idők. He added that judges are even capable of influencing political struggles in the course of the administration of political cases.” 

In a trademark Fidesz defence to any criticism, they also pointed out that a public administration court is part of the legal system in several EU countries, including the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.

Other leaked details of the plan involve: merging the Constitutional Court and the Curia, setting up a High Administrative Court as special tribunal, central administration of courts by the Minister of Justice, dismissal all of the judges who entered in office before 1990.

For context, Orbán has a spotty record of respecting the courts. As Zoltán Fleck aptly summarized: “Ever since taking power in 2010, Orbán has systematically undermined the constitutional system of checks and balances, and weakened the rule of law in Hungary. One part of this long story is the subjugation of the administration of the judiciary. Soon after taking power, the Fidesz government disbanded the existing judicial council and replaced the autonomy of the judiciary with a strictly centralized body of judicial oversight. According to the Act on the Organization and Administration of Courts (CLXI of 2011) the President of the National Office for the Judiciary exercises all the authorities of central administration. The President is elected by the Parliament among judges by a two-thirds majority for 9 years. The government nominated and the parliament elected Tünde Handó, the wife of a Fidesz Member of European Parliament, one of the leading figures of the party and a family friend of the Prime Minister. … Her most important competence is to appoint the presidents of regional courts and courts of appeal and supervise their activity. From 2012 until present the entire administrative staff was replaced, helped by the Act on the status of judges which modified the compulsory retirement age of judges, in order to align the office’s the politically elected president’s aspects and “philosophy”. After fierce criticism Handó’s powers were somewhat cut, but the essence did not change: It is she who decides who gets to take administrative functions in the judiciary or even become a judge. The Judicial Council has a veto power in appointing court leaders but Handó still has the right to appoint whomever she wants. The most important means for this is to declare applications ineffective, annulling and restarting the application process.”

Privacy no more

A new amendment of the penal code comes into force in July, giving authorities virtually unlimited access to citizens’ private communication, emails, phone calls, etc. Until now, a citizen had to be suspect in a criminal case in order to be wiretapped by authorities. From now on, authorities can wiretap anyone in order to establish suspicion – as well as people connected to them. Directly, and indirectly. That means virtually everyone in this country, even before we start discussing what “indirect” connection even means.

It is called the preparation procedure of the investigation. And because the preparation procedure is not technically investigation, and it does not technically treat targets as suspects, not even diplomatic immunity saves you from it. Even MPs can be wiretapped as part of this procedure – unlike in an actual investigation. All the immunity law says after all is that they cannot be suspects – but this is just to find out whether they are suspects.

Oh, and you have no right to learn that you had been wiretapped earlier.

Orbán had clearly learned from the fate of his Macedonian colleague (nationalist, autocratic, top gangster who kept everyone in his pocket, blackmailed, or both), who was busted for wiretapping everyone, including politicians illegally.

Apparently, accumulating power by secretly wiretapping everyone is only wrong if it happens to be against some law, so Orbán scrapped that law. Or, to be precise, he created a new legal term that leaves the old law intact, just gutted. This is blatant legalism – but so hard to attack because you don’t have legal means against it. You would be speechless to even argue against it and reduced to stomping like a helpless child, repeating “but…but…it’s still wrong

Cracking down on NGOs

Fidesz’ anti-NGO bill is ridiculously titled “Stop Soros” – even though it has nothing to do with George Soros or human trafficking. It is about cracking down on NGOs, all of them.

While originally it was just a translation of Russia’s foreign agent law, Orbán made sure to push it even further in defiance of heavy international criticism. (If you don’t understand why defying international and domestic criticism actually helps the dictator to grab more power, read our primer here.)

An earlier version of the bill would allow the interior minister to ban any NGOs active in the immigration field deemed to pose a “national security risk”. It would also slap a 25% tax on foreign donations to NGOs and list them as foreign agents on a website. These measures are now deleted, while the penal code and several other laws are touched in the name of the “Stop Soros” instead.

The bill is said to attack only NGOs that protect nasty, nasty migrants, but in effect would hit on any NGO, whether it is involved in government transparency, accountability, anti-corruption efforts, assists wild animals or feeds disadvantaged children. Don’t buy into the BS that it has anything to do with migration – just like any of Orbán’s moves. Many in this country have no idea what “civilian” even means – they just know it’s evil thanks to relentless government propaganda.


If you help someone, you can be jailed – so better not

The “Stop Soros” bill has also gained a new clause about incarcerating Hungarians who are deemed to have assisted illegal migration in any way – a sufficiently vague term that invites enforcement abuse, even when the original law is not abusive by itself. But it is.

Aiding anyone who might turn out to be illegally in the country will land you in jail. In other words, never mind humanity and human decency, the law even contradicts western civilization, and the famous and much-quoted Judeo-Christian traditions, not to mention the Geneva Convention, which grants basic rights to refugees even if they visit a country illegally. And it does so for a reason. Two world wars have taught a thing or two about governments’ proclivity to abuse humans with any excuse.

As of Hungarian citizens, go and ask for the papers of that poor fellow next time before you toss him the spare change from your pocket. As Hungarian Free Press put it:

“When someone is in crisis, civilized people in a civilized society step up to help. They do not first ask the individual to produce paperwork as to his or her legal status. The Orbán government’s most odious trespass was never its attack against independent media, its insipid corruption or its deconstruction of checks and balances, but rather the way that it has worked to strip Hungarian society of its humanity.”

Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression can now be limited by the sanctity of home and peace

Things that can now limit the freedom of assembly are:

  • other people’s privacy,
  • their family life and
  • it cannot trespass on others’ property
  • or hurt a home and its peace.

Let me help: this is to ensure pesky protesters don’t turn up outside Orbán’s house anymore. As of the rest of the enforcement, this will be a fantastic tool to ban protests if need be.

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