NGOs against the ban of protest at the boulevard in front of the Parliament and for the protection of constitutional right to peaceful assembly

Institute Alternative (IA), Centre for Civic Education (CGO), Centre for Development of NGOs (CDNGO) and Network for the affirmation of NGO sector (NANS) urge the Ministry of Interior not to persist in its intention to ban the organisation of public assemblies on roads through the amendments of law, because it is contrary to Montenegrin Constitution and international standards.

Even though Ministry of Interior justifies these amendments by referring to the verdict of European Court of Human Rights, case of Kudrevičius and Others v. Lithuania, we warn the Ministry of Interior and public that this verdict does not justify the introduction of ban at the road in front of the Parliament of Montenegro.

Namely, in the abovementioned case, European Court of Human Rights did not support the organisers, who kept three main roads in the country blocked (p. 164), because such assembly was not approved by competent state bodies and it caused disproportionate material damage, which was documented. In that case, it was concluded that demonstrations were not directly focused on the activity against which they protested, but that their goal was to block other activities (highways) without any direct connection to object of protest (p. 171). In other words, European Court of Human Rights established that in this specific case general traffic block was organised with the intention to interfere with the activities of others and that such behaviour does not enjoy the protection according to Art. 11 of the Convention. Simultaneously, European Court emphasised that each public assembly can lead to obstruction of traffic and that this fact alone does not justify the limitation of freedom of peaceful assembly and that public authorities must show certain level of tolerance. (p. 155).

In the case of Montenegro, public assemblies in front of the Parliament, as the object of protest, were duly announced to the Police Department, after which they were allowed, thus were legal. According to that, citizens were obliged to organise their affairs in line with the announced, legal assembly.

Ministry did not provide any evidence which would favour the claim that any damage was made to the economy, hence we believe that the unspecified and unclear claims regarding the “damage made to the economy” must not be used lightly as grounds for the amendments of Law which violates human rights and freedoms. If the Ministry believes that the economy is at such great loss, based on which the rights of businessmen outweigh the rights of citizens to assembly, it should provide concrete evidence which would be acceptable for the European Court of Human Rights as well. Non-governmental organisations have already sought for such analysis from the Ministry.

Finally, the Constitution of Montenegro bans the introduction of permanent ban of gathering by precisely stating the circumstances when the right to assembly can be restricted temporarily, but certainly not permanently. The Constitution prescribes that ban of the assembly can be conducted only from case to case, based on the assumption of safety risk, not in advance.

The “sight and sound” principle is one of the key principles of Guidelines on Freedom of peaceful assembly by Venice Commission, which implies that public assemblies are held in order to convey the message to state bodies, particular target person, group or organisation. Hence, it is the privilege of organisers to decide which location will best suit the purpose of their assembly, and competent bodies should not impose bans founded on the qualification of locations to “adequate” and “inadequate”, which restrictively limits the public speech.

We urge the Ministry of Interior to seek the advice of experts for international standards of human right to freedom of peaceful assembly before making any amendments to laws.

Stevo Muk, President of Managing Board, Institute alternativa (IA)
Daliborka Uljarević, Executive director, Centre for Civic Education (CCE)
Vanja Ćalović, Executive director, Network for the affirmation of NGO sector (NANS)
Ana Novaković, Executive director, Centre for Development of NGOs (CDNGO)