Hungary fell back to the partly free category in the latest edition of the Freedom of the World report, published by Freedom House on February 5.
The latest ranking by the US-based NGO marks the fifth consecutive year of declines and 13 years without improvement.
Of the 195 countries surveyed, 68 suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties, compared with 71 a year earlier and 50 registering gains, up from 35 a year earlier.
On a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 is "most free" and 7 "least free," Hungary received 3 in three main categories, political rights, civil liberties, and freedom ratings.
Hungaryʼs aggregate score of 70/100 — with zero representing the least free, 100 most free — places the country in the partly free category among states and is a drop of 2 notches from the last survey.
Hungary was ranked lowest among European countries, followed by Bulgaria, the second weakest, with a score of 80. Romania had 81, Poland 84, Slovakia 88, the Czech Republic 91 and Slovenia 95.
A total of 11 countries in emerging Europe are now classified as “partly free”: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Hungary, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine.
“Hungary’s status declined due to sustained attacks on the country’s democratic institutions by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, which has used its parliamentary super-majority to impose restrictions on or assert control over the opposition, the media, religious groups, academia, NGOs, the courts, asylum seekers, and the private sector since 2010,” states the report.
The report highlights the ousting of Central European University (CEU) and fines issued by the state audit office against opposition parties and the narrowing of media diversity.
The US-based NGO lists cases when pro-government media outlets published the names of activists, academics, programmes, and institutions and labeled them as "Soros agents" or “mercenaries".
Judicial independence remains a matter of concern, according to the report. A number of judges resigned from the judicial self-governing body, the National Judicial Council (OBT), prompting speculation that they had been forced out. The establishment of a separate system of administrative courts that would be overseen by the justice minister came into force before the Venice Commission could have voiced its opinion.
The rights of refugees and asylum seekers are routinely violated in Hungary, where changes to asylum policy and the construction of barriers along the country’s southern border in recent years have made it extremely difficult if not impossible for people to apply for asylum and receive protection, it said.
The government dismissed the report as a politically motivated and biased attack by a “Soros organisation” ahead of the European Parliamentary elections, referring to the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, who has become public enemy number one for the right-wing nationalist government of Viktor Orban.