The blueprint judiciary reform group reacted harshly to the proposed amendments to the Law on Public Gatherings, which were withdrawn today by the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia. Amendments to the law were announced to bring them in line with the new Law on Misdemeanors in relation to the provided penalties, but the final text of the proposal also provides for scandalous restrictions on the right to protest.
Although the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia provides for the right for peaceful gathering and expression of public protest without prior notice and authorization, the proposed amendments provided for arbitrary restrictions regarding where public gatherings may be organized, providing prohibitions on organizing public gatherings in the seats of state authorities and the area around them, as well as the residential and representative buildings and the surrounding space belonging to the authorities of the Republic of North Macedonia, in the offices of foreign diplomatic-consular missions headquarters, and in facilities and areas of particular importance and interest to the security of the Republic of North Macedonia. Such restrictions, in the absence of the clearly defined conditions in the Constitution (martial law and emergency), present censorship of the right to protest, going beyond the limits provided for in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the ECHR practice. All restrictions on the right to peaceful gathering must be in accordance with the principle of proportionality, that is, there must be a balance between the nature and scope of the restriction and the purpose which the state wishes to protect by such an intervention. According to the Venice Commission’s guidelines for freedom of peaceful gathering “the principle of proportionality requires authorities not to impose routine restrictions that could fundamentally alter the basic nature of the gathering, such as relocating gatherings to less central areas of the city. Prohibition and restriction of gathering should always be the last resort and should be taken into account only when a less restrictive response is not appropriate.” *
Comparative practice from countries in the region shows that there is no restriction of space for public gatherings except in the Republic of Croatia, but that restriction applies only to 10 meters of the premises where the Parliament and the Government are located and 20 meters to the Constitutional Court.
The blueprint judiciary reform group also voiced its concern about the way these draft amendments to the law tended to be adopted. Namely, the practice of publishing draft and draft laws on SNER, which undergo changes overnight and which later differ significantly in the final texts, is an abuse of the seemingly “open” process of law-making. In this way, the contribution of the CSOs that often participate in the improvement of the legal texts with their comments on the draft laws is used in order to give legitimacy to the final changes.
Although the Government changed its mind and withdrew the draft amendments to the Law on Public Gatherings, the blueprint judiciary group warns that competent institutions cannot afford to reach and impose restrictions on the right to protest in a democratic society without previously providing broader consultation with the public.
* Paragraph 29 of the Guidelines on Freedom and Peaceful Gatherings (3rd edition), Venice Commission, OSCE/ODIHR
BLUPRINT Judicial Reform Group consists of Foundation Open Society – Macedonia, Coalition “All for Fair Trials”, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia, Human Rights Institute, European Policy Institute, Macedonian Young Lawyers Association and Center for legal research and analysis.
—————————————————12 November 2019