Sovereignty Protection Office Launches Investigation Against Atlatszo

Cover image: Péter Somogyi (szarvas) / Telex
Cover image: Péter Somogyi (szarvas) / Telex

In an official letter on Tuesday, Ákos Pálvölgyi, director of the Sovereignty Protection Office, informed VSquare’s Hungarian partner Atlatszo that under the mandate of the national sovereignty protection law adopted by the Hungarian Parliament last year, the Office “investigates organizations that use foreign funding to influence the will of voters or support such activities.”

The letter states that “atlatszo.hu Közhasznú Nonprofit Kft. is a foreign-subsidized organization, with a significant portion of its annual budget coming from abroad, according to the accounts published on its website.” Therefore, the Sovereignty Protection Office “launches a unique – comprehensive – investigation into the activities of atlatszo.hu.” The attached survey includes 11 questions: some related to publicly available information (articles of association, financial statements), others to accounting information (general ledger extracts, bank account statements), and others to grants received from international donor organizations mentioned in the annexes to our financial statements (e.g., grant agreements) going back several years.

The questions from the Sovereignty Protection Office also include a request to “explain in detail how Atlatszo cooperates with the Transparency International Hungary Foundation, which is listed as a cooperating partner on its website.” Transparency International Hungary issued a statement that a similar investigation has been launched against them by the same authority, with a six-page letter containing a total of 62 questions.

In their view, the Sovereignty Protection Office “attacks citizens and civil society organizations that voice criticism under the pretext of allegedly defending national sovereignty.”

Like Transparency International Hungary, Atlatszo has repeatedly voiced its reservations about the sovereignty protection law adopted at the end of last year.

In December, for example, along with several other Hungarian independent media outlets, Atlatszo wrote in a joint statement (also published on VSquare) that “although the newly adopted sovereignty protection law does not regulate the operation of media companies, it is nevertheless capable of severely restricting press freedom, making the work of independent editorial offices, journalists, and media companies difficult or even impossible.” Atlatszo also joined the joint statement of Hungarian NGOs protesting against the law.

The flagship of pro-government NGOs (or GONGOs), the Civil Coalition Forum (CÖF-CÖKA), has also been harassing Atlatszo for a long time under the pretext of foreign funding. Most recently, in March, they held a press conference to announce that they would set up a working group to investigate foreign-funded organizations, with a special focus on Atlatszo. The press conference of the pro-government propaganda organization was then reported by the national news agency and the public media service, while 20 independent editorial offices issued a joint statement in support of press freedom and Atlatszo.

The original version of this text was published at Atlatszo.hu.

What is the Sovereignty Protection Act?

Source: Hungarian Helsinki Committee

In December 2023, the Hungarian Parliament adopted Act LXXXVIII of 2023 on the Protection of National Sovereignty. The Act consists of two main pillars: establishing a new Sovereignty Protection Office (SPO) to carry out investigations, and amending the Criminal Code to sanctions electoral candidates and representatives of nominating organizations using prohibited foreign funds for campaigning purposes with up to three years of imprisonment.

Over 100 civil society organizations, more than 15,000 citizens, and 10 independent media outlets strongly criticized the new law. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights called for the abandonment of the proposal, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders noted the imminent negative implications of the adoption of the proposal in their joint communication to the Hungarian Government. The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe seized the Venice Commission to provide an opinion on the proposal.

On 7 February 2024 the European Commission announced that it decided to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary for violating EU law on the Defence of Sovereignty.

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