Hungary OKs 'muzzle law,' boosts lawmaker fines, sanctions

Hungary's right-wing governing parties have approved legislation greatly increasing fines and sanctions on lawmakers who disrupt parliamentary activities

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Hungary's right-wing governing parties on Tuesday approved legislation greatly increasing fines and sanctions on lawmakers who disrupt parliamentary activities.

The rules, dubbed a “muzzle law” by the opposition, were approved principally by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party and its Christian Democrat coalition partners. They seek to eliminate protests inside the chamber of deputies and make more difficult some of the oversight duties carried out by lawmakers.

The legislation was passed nearly a year after opposition lawmakers protesting labor legislation they saw as exploiting workers tried to prevent its approval by blowing whistles and sirens in the chamber of deputies, singing the national anthem and blocking access to the parliamentary speaker's pulpit.

The new rules, for example, raise the maximum fines allowed to be meted out to lawmakers from six months of salary to 12 months, and the maximum length of possible suspensions from nine parliamentary sessions to 60.

The opposition Dialogue party said it would ask the Constitutional Court to strike down the new regulations, including rules which ban independent lawmakers from joining a party's parliamentary group.

Hungarian lawmakers have also been banned from changing or supplementing the text of their parliamentary oath and will need to request permission before visiting public institutions.

Last week, a lawmaker from the left-wing Democratic Coalition was sworn in, and at the end of the official oath said that he would strive to “restore the republic and give the nation a new, democratic constitution.”

Laszlo Szebian-Petrovszki's comments drew strong disapproval from government parties.

Last December, several opposition lawmakers were forcibly expelled from the headquarters of state television, where they went during street marches and protests against the labor law, insisting on the right to read a list of demands live on air.