Norway criticizes police raids on NGOs


Norway strongly criticized Hungary today, saying the country is distancing itself from European democratic norms. Yesterday the Hungarian police raided the offices of civic groups critical of the government, American news agency Associated Press reported yesterday.

Norway spoke up after the Hungarian police raided the offices of two NGOs who receive financial aid under the Norway Grants program and distribute it to to other civic associations. The Norway Grants provides funds for social, educational or environmental projects in Hungary and in 15 other European countries.

Norway's minister for European affairs Vidar Helgesen said the raids carried out on Monday were “unacceptable” and represented the “harassment of civil society organizations.”

The Hungarian government claims some of the NGOs are misusing the money and spending it on anti-government activities. One of the groups has admitted organising anti-government protests with the help of the Norway grant but the government specifically complained about democracy watchdog organisations, such as the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), corruption watchdog Transparency International Hungary and Átlátszó (Transparent), a group of investigative journalists.

The HCLU said the police raids came after investigations earlier this year by the government's contro office (KEHI) failed to find evidence of any wrongdoing. HCLU sid the raids were " politically motivated actions that elevate the illiberal Orbán government’s attack against civil society to a new, unprecedented level.” The government’s aim is "clearly to intimidate civil society and silence critical voices.”

Norway rejects Hungary's claim that it has the authority to audit the funds. On May 9 Oslo supended payments, not to the small civic groups now in question, but to another aid program managed by the Hungarian state. The Norwegian authorities said that program will only start to be funded again when NGOs stop being harrassed.  

Hungary said that it would ask the mediation of the EU to settle the conflict.


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