“It is of utmost importance that emergency measures are not at the expense of our fundamental principles and values… Democracy cannot work without free and independent media,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.
“Any emergency measures must be limited to what is necessary and strictly proportionate. They must not last indefinitely… governments must make sure that such measures are subject to regular scrutiny,” she added after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban secured the indefinite right to rule by decree.
Hungary’s parliament granted nationalist Orban the right to rule by decree on Monday to fight the coronavirus, ignoring calls by opponents and rights groups to put a timeframe on the extra powers.
President Janos Ader, an Orban ally, signed the legislation extending a state of emergency after it was approved by parliament, dominated by Orban‘s Fidesz party. Ader said it was in line with international treaties and Hungary’s constitution.
The law has triggered criticism from opposition parties, rights groups and the Council of Europe, Europe’s main rights forum, because it does not set a specific limit on the time the additional powers will be in force.
It also imposes jail terms of up to five years on those hindering measures to curb the spread of the virus or spreading false information that could upset people or hinder the fight against the virus.
Rights groups said this might be used to muzzle journalists as remaining independent media are forced to cut staff and budgets while media loyal to the government continue to receive taxpayers’ money.