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Hungary proposes sweeping new virus emergency powers

AFP  |  Budapest 

Hungary's government has submitted a bill to parliament that would enable sweeping rule-by-decree powers to tackle the coronavirus under an extended state of emergency, as well as introducing jail terms for spreading "fake news".

According to the draft posted on the parliament website late on Friday, the bill would enable the government to indefinitely extend the state of emergency and its associated powers of rule by decree, removing the current requirement for MPs to approve any extension.

Hungary ordered a state of emergency on March 11 as part of protective measures aimed at stemming the spread of the Covid-19 virus, which have included the closure of borders to non-national passenger traffic.

According to the draft bill, during the period of the state of emergency the government could "by decree suspend the use of certain laws, diverge from statutory provisions, and introduce other extraordinary measures, in the interest of guaranteeing the stabilisation of the lives, health, personal and material security of citizens, as well as the economy".

Critics of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government worry that this clause might allow it to arbitrarily regulate by force of decree.

Another clause in the draft raises the possibility of a "forced parliamentary break," prompting concerns that the government could suspend the current assembly session.

The draft also proposes criminal code changes to levy stiff jail terms for violating quarantine orders or for spreading what Budapest has called "fake news" about its measures and the coronavirus.

The penalties include eight-year sentences for causing death by breaching disease control measures, and five years for "anyone publicly disseminating a false fact or falsifying an actual fact (...) preventing or frustrating the effectiveness" of anti-virus orders.

The bill could come before parliament next week where it will need a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

Hungary has so far reported 103 cases of the infection, and four virus-related deaths.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, March 21 2020. 19:36 IST
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