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Hungary Rejects US Criticism of Law on Foreign-funded NGOs

FILE - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium.

Hungary's government said Tuesday that the United States is applying double standards in its criticism of a new law on civic groups that receive funds from foreign donors. A statement from the government spokesman's office said the U.S. State Department was being “misled” by a disinformation campaign appearing in international media and “strongly assisted by Soros organizations.”

At the center of the dispute are some civic groups supported by Hungarian-American financier George Soros, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights advocate which also provides legal aid to asylum-seekers, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.

“We would like everyone to see which organizations funded from abroad are seeking to influence Hungarian public life and migration policy in accordance with foreign interests,” the Hungarian government said. “It is regrettable to see even the U.S. Department of State being misled on this issue.”

Hungary again compared its legislation to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, which mainly has been applied to political lobbyists for foreign governments, not civic groups like those covered by the Hungarian law. The United States said such comparisons are “false.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orban says some of the foreign-funded groups want to dismantle his radical anti-migrant policies. While supported by many Hungarians, those policies have led to disputes with the European Union and criticism from the United Nations' refugee agency.

Under the legislation approved by lawmakers from the governing parties and signed by President Janos Ader last week, groups getting more than around $26,000 a year from abroad have to register with the courts and identify themselves as being foreign-funded.

Some affected groups have announced a boycott of the new rules, saying their financial records are already public.

The State Department said Monday it was “concerned” by the legislation.

“By portraying groups supported with foreign funding as acting against the interests of Hungarian society, this legislation would weaken the ability of Hungarians to organize and address concerns in a legitimate and democratic manner,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.