LONDON - Hungarian charities on Thursday criticized a draft law that would require them to declare foreign funding, saying it would clamp down on freedom of speech and undermine their work with migrants and other vulnerable groups.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party said it would present a bill to parliament this week requiring nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) with a yearly foreign income of 7.2 million forints ($25,000) to register with authorities.
The bill said "foreign interest groups" could use their funding of local NGOs to "pursue their own interests" in Hungary, threatening the country's political and economic interests.
"This is an attempt to discredit NGOs in the eyes of the public," said Anika Bakonyi, project manager at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights watchdog group.
The Fidesz announcement came a day after parliament approved a law that could force out a university founded by Hungarian-born financier George Soros, despite protests against the move and condemnation abroad.
Orban, a critic of liberal civil organizations that receive grants from Soros' Open Society Foundation, said last week that Central European University had violated regulations in awarding diplomas, an allegation the college rejected.
European lawmakers have demanded disciplinary action against Hungary over the crackdown on foreign universities, the latest step by Orban to subdue independent institutions — including the judiciary, central bank, NGOs and media.
Goran Buldioski, the Hungarian-based director of the Soros-funded Open Society Initiative for Europe, said he expected small civil society organizations would suffer the most.
This "long-term policy" of the government was designed "to eradicate all voices that speak freely," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We find it totally unnecessary, stigmatizing and discriminatory."