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UN calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders

The United Nations is calling on the Hungarian government to stop stigmatizing and intimidating human rights defenders and start ensuring they can conduct their work “in an enabling legal and administrative environment”, independent expert Michel Forst said in a press release published today.

“Human rights defenders in Hungary are increasingly working in a rather polarised and politicized environment,” said the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at the end of the first visit to the country, according to the press release. Forst also criticized attempts to de-legitimize defenders and undermine their peaceful and legitimate activities through criminal defamation and excessive administrative and financial pressure, the press release added.

“In the context of the refugee crisis and the excessively manipulated fear of the ‘other’ in society, defenders face public criticism by government officials, stigmatization in the media, unwarranted inspections and reduction of state funding,” the special rapporteur noted. During his visit, Forst heard specific testimonies that defenders who criticize the Government or raise human rights concerns are quickly intimidated and portrayed as “political” or “foreign agents”, according to the press release.

“The drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life, directly or indirectly affecting human rights,” the press release cited him as saying in connection with Hungary.

The UN special rapporteur expressed his readiness for further dialogue to identify ways to strengthen democratic space and create an enabling environment for defenders to carry out their legitimate and important work in Hungary.

During his nine-day visit, at the invitation of the Hungarian government, the expert met with state officials, members of the judiciary, the parliament, ombudsman as well as human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic community, the press release said.

Forst will present a final report with his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in March 2017, according to the press statement.