Council of Europe urges Hungary to shelve sovereignty bill

Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, addresses the media in Michalowo

By Boldizsar Gyori

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary should abandon its proposed 'sovereignty' law as it gives sweeping investigative powers with little democratic oversight, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said on Monday.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party submitted a "sovereignty protection bill" to parliament last week, aiming to set up an authority to monitor political interference and recommend changes in regulations.

Critics say the bill is an attempt to stifle dissent in a country that has clashed repeatedly with the European Union over democratic rights during Orban's 13 years in power.

The bill -- which needs to be debated by lawmakers before its final approval -- would punish foreign financing for parties or groups running for election with up to three years in prison.

"I call on the Hungarian Parliament to shelve these proposals", Dunja Mijatovic's statement read. Ruling party Fidesz did not reply immediately to emailed questions.

The Council of Europe is a pan-European group tasked with upholding human rights and the rule of law since its formation after World War Two.

Mijatovic said the bill would allow the new authority to request sensitive data and private information from anyone without adequate oversight.

"The invasive scrutiny of the proposed Office could be weaponised against anybody who may be considered an adversary due, for instance, to activities aimed at influencing democratic debate," she said.

Orban, who has a two-thirds majority in parliament that allows Fidesz to change any legislation, scored his fourth landslide victory in 2022, portraying himself as a defender of Hungary's national interests.

(Reporting by Boldizsar Gyori; Editing by Christina Fincher)