By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Budapest-based online news agency BosNewsLife expressed concern Thursday, October 18, about newly formulated “threats” by Hungary’s government to block websites accused of ‘crimes against the state’ and ‘illegal content.’
In a statement to BosNewsLife, the International Communications Office (ICO) of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that a New Penal Code would allow “to make it possible for authorities to block websites with illegal content such as racist incitement.”
It added that “in certain cases such as child pornography, crimes against the state or acts of terrorism, blocking would be possible immediately, after the time limit for the service provider to act” has elapsed.
“While we support the government’s fight against child pornography, extremism and terrorism, we are concerned that words such as ‘crimes against the state’ or ‘illegal content’ is open for wide interpretation,” explained BosNewsLife’s founder Stefan J. Bos.
“Think about investigative journalists publishing leaked documents unfavorable towards the government. Their sites could be a targeted as well,” he added.
“Looking to its record, we fear the government will misuse genuine concern over child pornography and extremism to target other legitimate websites, including those expressing harsh views about government policies. Who decides what is illegal content?”
The ICO said power to block sites would be especially important when the service provider refuses to cooperate or when the host servers are located abroad. “To carry out this measure effectively, every access provider in Hungary would be bound to block a website upon the authorities’ request.”
In general however, “this measure would serve as a last resort, when access to the illegal content cannot be prevented in any other way.”
Bos said the wide formulation reminds him to Russia and China “which is creating a digital wall to prevent the free distribution of critical information.” He added, “we fear that badly formulated legislation will lead to further self-censorship among journalists in this former Communist nation.”
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Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party has come under international pressure by using its unprecedented two-third majority to rush through media legislation that enforces balanced reporting on mainstream media and “public morals” on Internet news outlets.
BosNewsLife, which claims to be Central and Eastern Europe’s first Christian news agency online, was told last year to register with Hungary’s government backed media watchdog, a requirement that was later removed for online media, amid international pressure.
The ICO said the planned blocking of websites “would also help the Hungarian Government take action against radical website kuruc.info, which operates from severs in the United States and is the focal point of extremist forces in Hungary.”
The announcement came a day after thousands of supporters of the far right Movement For a Better Hungary (Jobbik) marched through Hungary’s second largest city Miskolc to protest what they called “Gypsy crime”.
There were two counter protests by an estimated 1,000 Roma, or Gypsies, and the party of former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány against Jobbik’s “Nazi ideology.”
The demonstrations were held near the Avas housing estate where far right protesters said up to 200 deeply impoverished Roma families received apartments through “fraud”.
No violent confrontations or injuries were reported.
Hungary’s government has come under international pressure to tackle extremism where rights activists say far right groups have used the economic crisis to fuel deep rooted anti-Roma and anti-Jewish sentiments in the country.