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Liberal Democrats challenge Downing Street to hold Hungarian PM Viktor Orban to account

May 28, 2021 2:13 PM
By Robert Harrison
Originally published by Liberal Democrat European Group

The Liberal Democrats have challenged Downing Street to hold Viktor Orban to account during his visit to Downing Street. The Hungarian Prime Minister has been accused of antisemitism, islamophobia and making a sustained assault on democracy and the freedom of the press.

In a joint letter to Boris Johnson, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey MP and Lib Dem Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Layla Moran MP wrote:

"When you decide to invite leaders of other countries to Downing Street, your choice matters. It sends a signal to our allies; to our partners; to people in Britain and around the world, of the UK's values and commitments.

"We are therefore extremely concerned that you have chosen to invite Prime Minister Orbán to Downing Street. Orbán's rule has been marked by a sustained assault on Hungarian democracy, on press freedom and on human rights.

"That you and your Government view co-operation with Orbán and his government as "vital to the UK's security and prosperity" speaks volumes.

"We note Downing Street's comments prior to this meeting, that "where we have concerns about human rights we do not shy away from raising them". This Friday, you have the opportunity to do so. We therefore ask you to commit to challenging Orbán."

The letter lists 10 points that the Hungarian PM can be challenged on, including his record on civil liberties, women's and LGBT rights and Russia.


Full letter:

Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing prior to your meeting with the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, on Friday 28 May.

When you decide to invite leaders of other countries to Downing Street, your choice matters. It sends a signal to our allies; to our partners; to people in Britain and around the world, of the UK's values and commitments. We are therefore extremely concerned that you have chosen to invite Prime Minister Orbán to Downing Street. Orbán's rule has been marked by a sustained assault on Hungarian democracy, on press freedom and on human rights. That you and your Government view co-operation with Orbán and his government as "vital to the UK's security and prosperity" speaks volumes.

We note Downing Street's comments prior to this meeting, that "where we have concerns about human rights we do not shy away from raising them". This Friday, you have the opportunity to do so. We therefore ask you to commit to challenging Orbán on the following ten points:

Islamophobia: Orbán has a history of making Islamophobic comments. This is unacceptable. Will you challenge Orbán on his record and condemn all forms of Islamophobia?

Antisemitism: Severe concerns have also been raised regarding Orbán's record on antisemitism. His government are responsible for perpetrating highly offensive antisemitic tropes. Will you ask Orbán to condemn antisemitism in all its forms?

Press freedom: There has been a sustained assault on the independence of the press under Orbán's regime. Most recently, independent radio station Klubradio - one of few stations critical of the government - was taken off air, and its frequency given to a station "owned by a group close to...Orbán". Will you ask Orbán to cease his attack on the free press?

Democracy: Following Orbán's attempt to erode democratic norms, the 2018 Hungarian elections were declared fair, but not free by the OSCE. Will you make clear that Britain believes that democratic backsliding in any form is totally unacceptable?

Women's and LGBT rights: The Hungarian government has a highly concerning record on women and LGBT rights. Last May, the Hungarian parliament blocked the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Legislation was passed in the same month which severely curtails the rights of trans people. Will you challenge Orbán on these unacceptable attempts to trample on the rights of minorities?

Civil liberties: Severe concerns have been raised regarding Hungary's response to the coronavirus pandemic. According to Human Rights Watch, '[t]he government used the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to continue its attacks on rule of law and democratic institutions'. The erosion of civil liberties and the undermining of the rule of law is unacceptable, and contrary to our values. Will you ask Orbán to reverse these steps?

China: Hungary has blocked EU statements condemning Beijing's assault on democracy in Hong Kong. Will you ask Viktor Orbán whether he is prepared to stand with Britain against the attempts to undermine Hong Kong democracy?

Russia: Despite Putin's total disregard for human rights, in his actions at home and abroad, Orbán has argued that the EU should dismantle its sanctions on the Russian regime. Will you make clear that Russian aggression is unacceptable?

Belarus: Hungary's record on challenging the repressive Lukashenko regime is poor. While Orbán did agree to an EU statement condemning the terrible detention of Roman Protasevich at the weekend, in the past he has been an obstacle to coordinated steps on the regime. Will you challenge Orbán to condemn not just the grounding of the Ryanair flight this weekend, but Lukashenko's continued efforts to suppress the democratic opposition in Belarus?

Transparency: Finally, you have a record of failing to be transparent about the content of your calls with other foreign leaders. Will you commit to providing a readout of your meeting with Viktor Orbán, so that we can ascertain whether or not you have 'shied away' from raising the UK's concerns about Hungary's human rights record?

We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Sir Ed Davey MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Layla Moran MP, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Development