Due to the COVID-19 pandemia a state of emergency was declared in Hungary in order to make it possible for certain authorities taking effective mesures enough and to protect the people living in the country. The Parliament also accepted the so called Coronavirus Act because of the critical situation. In order to clarify some misunderstandings, here you can find the english language translation of the draft of the Act (which was later accepted by the Parliament) and a short Q&A here below.

Is the power of the National Assembly in Hungary now limited?

On the contrary, the Act is the only exceptional measure in Europe now that actually extends the prerogative of the National Assembly vis-à-vis the Government. It expressly provides the National Assembly with the power to revoke the authorisation at any time, either in general or in the case of specific measures.

Is the Government’s authoristaion now unlimeted in Hungary?

The Government’s authorisation is limited. It may only adopt exceptional measures that are necessary and proportionate in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect citizens’ lives, health, security and economic stability. The measures will cease to be in force when the state of danger ends.

Is rule of law suspended now in the country?

Rule of law, of course, is not suspended: all authorities will continue to operate in the constitutional and legal framework applicable. The Constitutional Court is in session and special procedural rules are authorised to facilitate its activities.

I heard there would be no more parliamentary elections in Hungary!

As for the clause regarding the moratorium on elections, it only applies to interim elections (by-elections), none of which may be called until the day following the end of the period of state of danger. General elections as foreseen by the Fundamental Law are not affected.

Is freedom of press in danger now?

Regarding the proposed amendment to the Hungarian Criminal Code, it sanctions only intentionally false statements made to the general public capable of obstructing or frustrating defence efforts. This provision is both adequate and necessary to fight malicious disinformation campaigns. The fight against disinformation is a basic goal of the EU policies. According to the Action Plan of the European Commission “disinformation is understood as verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public, and may cause public harm. Public harm includes threats to democratic processes as well as to public goods such as Union citizens' health, environment or security.” In the current case it is the citizens’ health that is at stake.

But the Criminal Code already contained a provision on fearmongering!

This is correct. Although the current definition of fearmongering is not equipped to deal with a pandemic situation (i.e. when public danger is not confined to a particular venue or site) or when it is conducted through non-traditional means of communication. It must be underlined that the temporal scope of the felony is confined to the period of special legal order. Also note that the material scope of the felony is confined to the statement or dissemination of untrue facts or misrepresented true facts.

What if I just have a different opinion?

Opinions, however critical they may be of the Government, as well as speculations or forecasts do not fall under the scope of the felony. The crime can be committed only intentionally. This means that the perpetrator must be aware of the falsehood of his statement. In order to be punishable, the action must have the potential to hinder or restrain the efficiency of the protective measures. The communication must be performed in front of a large audience, i.e. it must reach the public. Private communications do not fall under the scope of the felony.