28 February 2018
Today the Metropolitan Court of Budapest in its first instance ruling found that in the ‘National Consultation’ questionnaire, the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister had violated the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s right to good reputation. The court found that the statements in Question 5 of the questionnaire related to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) are false and misrepresent the human rights organization. The Court called on the government to issue an apology as well as pay the HHC HUF 2 million for damages. The ruling is subject to appeal.
On 1 October 2017 the Hungarian Helsinki Committee sued the Cabinet Office because of the misleading statements of the ‘Stop Soros National Consultation questionnaire’ that misrepresented facts. The HHC requested the court to establish that the statements in the ‘questionnaire’, which the Cabinet Office had sent to every household, i.e. 8 million persons in Hungary, in October-November 2017, had violated the human rights organization’s right to good reputation. The HHC also asked the government to issue a public apology and pay moral damages in the amount of HUF 8 million.
According to point 5 of the questionnaire, “George Soros would also like to see migrants receive lighter sentences for the crimes they commit. George Soros, with significant amounts of funding, supports numerous organizations that assist immigration and defend immigrants who have committed unlawful acts. One example, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, with regard to the prohibited crossing of the border argued that ‘the application of strict legal consequences with regard to unlawful entry may be considered concerning’.”
However, the Helsinki Committee has never encouraged more lenient punishment for crimes committed by ‘migrants’ or ‘immigrants’. The HHC has always spoken for equal rights. The truncated citation in the questionnaire comes from a HHC material drawn up before the introduction of the so called border fence related offences in September 2015. This paper criticized the proposed regulations by building primarily on the 1951 Refugee Convention. “The use of such severe legal ramifications related to illegal entry is troubling in light of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Criminal penalties, in particular prison sentences, can only be introduced, if the person in question has already been expelled. However, according to [September 2015] rules, asylum seekers will immediately be criminally liable for simply crossing the border fence.”
The chunk of sentence completed by the Cabinet Office conveys a false impression, as if the Helsinki Committee wanted to provide ‘migrants, immigrants’ with a privilege, as opposed to and to the detriment of the Hungarian citizens, when brought to court for any kind of offence. That is not the case. The Helsinki Committee has taken a stand in a significant dispute on whether asylum seekers’ irregular crossing of the border should be made punishable.