NGOs to be fined for encouraging invalid votes at the Hungarian government’s child protection referendum

April 11. 2022. – 02:08 PM



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Our readers may recall that in the Spring of 2021, the Hungarian government announced the introduction of heavier sanctions for sexual crimes committed against minors. In May 2021, the first draft of the legislation was submitted to Parliament, and in a rare occurrence, there was consensus between the governing parties and the opposition about it.

However, on 8 June, just a few days prior to the final vote, Fidesz submitted changes to the draft. These changes were seen by many as an attempt to conflate paedophilia and sexual minorities. We wrote about this in detail at the time.

A few months later, the government announced that they would be holding a referendum on the issue at the same time as the parliamentary elections, on 3 April 2022. Multiple human-rights organizations and NGOs campaigned to encourage voters to cast invalid votes in the referendum, thus increasing the chances of it being invalid. They did so because they are of the opinion that the referendum would not have protected anyone, but it actually further endangers members of the LMBTQI community in Hungary.

In the end, 3,5 million valid votes were cast, along with 1,6 million invalid votes. For the referendum to be legally valid, 4,1 million valid votes would have been needed. We summarized this shortly after the results were published.

Last Friday, several NGOs were fined by the National Election Committee (NEC) for encouraging invalid voting – MTI (The Hungarian National News Agency) reported.

The NEC states that the reasoning behind the decision is that a campaign about the referendum must not be aimed at inciting people to vote invalidly, "because this not only undermines but also attacks the constitutional purpose of the direct exercise of power and the legislative will behind it". According to the supervisory body

encouraging people to cast an invalid vote is thus considered an abuse of rights.

The NEC says that a total of sixteen organizations have infringed the principle of good faith and proper administration of justice by encouraging the electorate to cast an invalid vote. Each of the offenders was fined 176 400 forints (approximately 475 Euros).

The NEC also found Amnesty International Hungary guilty of the same offense in the course of another complaint and ordered that they pay an additional fine of 3 million HUF (close to 8000 Euros).

The NEC’s decisions are not final, and may be appealed at the Curia within three days.

The fined NGOs issued a joint statement in which they say: “The total fine of nearly 9 million forints is aimed at silencing the huge community that exercised its right to free expression and democratically defeated the government's propaganda referendum."

According to the NGOs, the decision of the NEC shows that it is not enough to “just” keep it a secret that the so-called “child protection” referendum initiated by the government was not valid. (Referring to the fact that for days, MTI did not report on the invalidity of the referendum.) The NGOs are of the opinion that the failure of the referendum scared the government, which is why they are now trying to use a fine to silence those who contributed to their homophobic and transphobic campaign’s invalidity.

The NGOs all agree that the referendum being invalid shows that the majority of the Hungarian population does not support the government’s exclusionary policies. For this reason, the so-called pedophile-law which was hijacked and made into an anti-gay law before being passed last June should be revoked. “Last Sunday, people sent a very clear message through the referendum, and it said: enough of the Putin-styled propaganda, enough of the incitement to hatred!” – they wrote.

Dávid Víg, president of Amnesty International Hungary said that they would attack the NEC’s ruling at the Curia, and that in his opinion, this obviously illicit fine would be defeated.

“We will not be intimidated. It is quite obvious that they are trying to silence us because of the success of our campaign and the unity of all the NGOs on this” – he said.

According to Luca Dudits, administrator at “Háttér Társaság” the fact that the referendum was invalid gave hope to lots of people, and they will not allow this to be taken away. “We are continuing to work for a free Hungary, one which is a safe place for all.” – Dudits added.

The statement was signed by Amnesty International Hungary, Budapest Pride, Emberség Erejével Alapítvány, Háttér Társaság, Labrisz Leszbikus Egyesület, Magyar Aszexuális Közösség, Magyar Helsinki Bizottság, Magyar LMBT Szövetség, NOÁR Mozgalom, Ökotárs Alapítvány, Prizma Közösség, Szimpozion Egyesület, and Társaság a Szabadságjogokért (Hungarian Civil Liberties Union).

It seems that the government is not bothered by the fact that the referendum was invalid, as Viktor Orbán spoke about the referendum having given the government a clear political responsibility.

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