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Hungary top court declares new electoral law unconstitutional

The Constitutional Court of Hungary [official website, In Hungarian] on Friday struck down an electoral law requiring voters to register to vote at least two weeks before elections in 2014. The new rules had been proposed by the conservative Fidesz [party website, in Hungarian] party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban [official website]. The new electoral law was passed [BBC report] by the Hungarian Parliament [official website, in Hungarian] last November but was referred to the Constitutional Court by President Janos Ader [official profile]. The court found [Reuters report] that the law unduly restricts voting rights, as it would have required eight million citizens to register to vote at least two weeks before the election, a major departure from the current system that allows individuals to be identified from an existing state-run database at polling places on election day. The court also objected to provisions that would restrict political ads.

Alleged government violations of freedom of press and speech have been a recurring issue in Hungary. Last May Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] criticized the Hungarian government [press release] for ignoring recommendations by the Council of Europe [official website] to change its media laws that allegedly curtail press freedom. In December 2011 Hungary's Constitutional Court struck down [JURIST report] certain provisions of the media laws as an unconstitutional restraint on press freedom. Rights groups had urged Hungary to amend [JURIST report] the media laws. The media laws created the National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH) [official website, in Hungarian], which controls private television and radio broadcasters, newspapers and online news sites. Under the law, the government could impose costly fines on broadcasters, newspapers and news websites if their coverage is deemed unbalanced or immoral by the media authority. The Constitutional Court struck down provisions allowing the NMHH to regulate content in print and online media and limiting the rights of reporters to protect confidential sources.

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