Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 27 March 2020
We are following with concern developments in Hungary where the government is pressing ahead with a bill to extend what is termed a "state of danger" that was declared earlier this month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We understand that the legislation is expected to go again before the Hungarian Parliament next week and is likely to pass.
The bill appears to give the government practically unlimited powers to rule by decree and bypass parliamentary scrutiny with no clear cut-off date.
Under international human rights law, emergency legislation and measures should be strictly temporary, limited to addressing the situation at hand and contain appropriate safeguards. They must remain subject to meaningful legislative and judicial oversight.
Among our other concerns, we understand that the bill stipulates that those who spread false or distorted information that may interfere in the government's response to the health crisis could face a prison term of up to five years.
Disinformation clearly risks undermining efforts by authorities to combat the spread of COVID-19, and needs to be addressed, including by working closely with social media platforms to identify and flag dangerous messages that impede effective measures to protect public health.
We are concerned, however, that the legislation as it is currently reported to be framed could negatively affect the legitimate work of journalists and have a potentially chilling effect on freedom of expression in Hungary.
We encourage all Governments to ensure that credible information on the pandemic and best responses to it is quickly and reliably available as a means to means to counter misinformation.
Being open and transparent helps to encourage people to accept and participate in measures designed to protect their own health and that of others. Responding to the COVID-19 crisis requires the participation of the whole of society.
Governments, including Hungary, have to take difficult decisions in response to COVID 19. International law allows emergency measures in response to significant threats. However, these measures need to be proportionate to the evaluated risk, and applied fairly, with a specific focus and duration. They should be used to achieve legitimate public health goals.
To this end, we urge the Hungarian Government to ensure the measures it takes are in line with its international human rights obligations.
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