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State of emergency must be limited in time, says TI Hungary

Transparency International Hungary says that while decisive action is clearly needed due to the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, the state of emergency should be limited to a predefined period and it should be subject to parliamentary review at predetermined intervals.

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The NGO says that there is no time for political debates, adding that the most important thing is to contain the epidemic and mitigate the damage. According to a press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal, Transparency International says that even the presence of soldiers and other state officials at some Hungarian corporations can be considered acceptable action.

On the other hand, the organization argues that not even the state of emergency may outcompete the respect for the rule of law and the remaining constitutional safeguards in Hungary, adding that they agree with those who expect more guarantees in order to prevent a scenario in which the regulation becomes a way for the government to further reduce the accountability of power.

The governmentʼs bill would indefinitely extend the state of emergency and would also accord special powers to the government, including the possibility to rule by decree and without the Parliament’s approval. 

The NGO disagrees with the bill, saying that it considers a recurring extension of the state of emergency by the Parliament every 30 days appropriate. 

"Introducing the state of emergency for an indefinite period would only be necessary when the Parliament is unable to assemble, a fearful prospect that will hopefully not materialize," the press release says.

Furthermore, Transparency International also criticized the way the bill would allow the government to imprison those who distribute false information.

"We are also aware of the fact that, due to the danger of epidemics, freedom of speech cannot be fully exercised, for example, in rallies," the NGO says. "It is also clear that the distribution of false or distorted information must be severely punished, especially in the current situation. It is important, however, that if the government deems it necessary to more severely sanction fear-mongering, it should employ the current sanctioning standards, according to which only those rumors are punishable that can potentially cause unrest among people. There is no need to allow for the application of imprisonment of up to five years to those who spread rumors that ʼundermine the effort to protect the country in a state of emergencyʼ."

Transparency International argues that the introduction of this new, unusual standard for the imposition of criminal punishments allows for the conflation of government-critical information with fear-mongering, adding that while the former is one of the cornerstones of the rule of law and a value that requires unconditional protection, it is without a doubt that the latter must be prosecuted.