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US warns Hungary on 'undue' rights restrictions over virus

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Washington (AFP)

The United States on Wednesday warned Hungary against restricting human rights and press freedom after parliament gave nationalist leader Viktor Orban sweeping powers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"As governments around the world respond, we urge them to avoid undue restrictions on essential human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the ability of the free press to provide information to the public about the crisis and the government's response," a State Department spokesperson said when asked about Hungary.

"Unduly restricting these rights and freedoms would harm the public's trust in us as leaders, at a time when trust is most needed," the spokesperson said, without criticizing Orban by name.

The State Department called for all emergency measures to target only the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spread rapidly around the world.

"Governments should ensure such powers are restricted to the period of time needed to address the current crisis and lifted as soon as they are no longer needed."

Orban, a nationalist who has often thumbed his nose at the rest of the European Union, was on Monday granted the power to rule by decree until his government decides the emergency is over.

Parliament also threatened prison sentences for journalists who publish what it deems "falsehoods" about the virus.

President Donald Trump, who shares Orban's anti-immigrant sentiment, last year welcomed the Hungarian leader to the White House and praised him despite criticism of the erosion of democracy.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also visited Budapest last year, with his aides insisting he was not validating Orban's rule but rather seeking to ensure that the NATO ally does not gravitate into the Russian orbit.

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