Protest in Hungary over treatment of NGOs funded by Norway Grants

Several hundred people gathered here Saturday to protest police investigations into Okotars, an environmental organisation appointed by Norway for administering the portion of the Norwegian Grants intended for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Xinhua reported.

IANS| Updated: Sep 14, 2014, 08:19 AM IST

Budapest: Several hundred people gathered here Saturday to protest police investigations into Okotars, an environmental organisation appointed by Norway for administering the portion of the Norwegian Grants intended for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Xinhua reported.

The Hungarian government has charged Okotars with supporting an opposition political party, the green LMP, and has demanded oversight into fund distribution.

It has also charged Okotars with unlawfully providing bridge loans to grant recipients. Norway has refused to grant the oversight, on grounds that the government is not entitled to supervise NGOs, while Okotars argued that the bridge loans were legally offered.

Norway has halted the portion of its grants intended to boost the Hungarian economy which the government is entitled to oversee, but has continued to fund the NGOs.

Earlier this week the National Bureau of Investigation occupied Okotars offices confiscating their documents and computers.

Saturday's protest was organised by several NGOs calling themselves The Human Platform.

According to Hungarian News Agency MTI, Greenpeace Hungary chief Zsolt Szegfalvi called the police action a "show procedure" and a government abuse of power.

He also noted that the Western media has criticised Hungary for preventing independent NGOs from operating. He denied that NGOs receiving money from outside Hungary were serving foreign interests since the money was being used to improve conditions in Hungary.

Norway, though not a European Union member, has, together with Liechtenstein and Iceland, offered grants to 16 countries including the 13 that joined the EU in 2004, 2007, and 2013.

These funds are available for, among other purposes, environmental monitoring, renewable energy, preserving biodiversity, the promotion of viable democratic systems and assistance to vulnerable groups, such as the Roma.