Freedom of assembly – rallies, demonstrations, processions or any other gatherings are free and can be organized and carried out only peacefully, without any weapons.
The Romanian Constitution, Article 39
Alongside 14 other organizations, part of the ‘NGOs for citizen’ group, we started the process of improving the legislation on public meetings. The proposal of amending the law, which we are launching today under debate, starts from the principle that the state must ensure exercising the constitutional right to public assembly and to not restrict it, as it happens based on the law in force. The state must accept protest as a legitimate form of manifestation, as a democratic tool that citizens have at their disposal whenever it deems necessary. The State must accept that the protest should be allowed out in the open for everyone to see and hear especially the target audience and not behind a shield of administrative and technical barriers.
Since January, the signatory organizations invited all political parties to discussions on this topic. And so, work meetings took place in which the principles we propose for amending Law number 60/1991 were discussed with representatives of PNL, UDMR, PSD, Pro Romania and USR. Later, discussions took place applied to the text of the proposed amendment alongside members of the Parliament who wanted to get involved in this endeavour, from PNL (Adriana Săftoiu, Mara Calista și Florica Cherecheș), PSD (Petre Florin Manole) and USR (Silvia Dinică).
The result of these discussions in a project that amends the Law on Public Assemblies in the sense detailed below. In the coming period, the project will be undertaken by members of the parliament from several parties and will enter the debate. We invite all organizations, groups and citizens interested in actively participating in discussions on this topic, and to contribute in improving the law project.
5 principles to improve the law of public assemblies
In Romania, the right to public assembly is governed by a law forged right after the 1991 Mineriads. It will soon reach the venerable age of 30 years and it has at least four fundamental structural problems.
- It is written to prevent public assemblies, in the name of public order, and not to implement a right enshrined in the Constitution.
- It does not take into account that the citizens can self-organize, decentralized using new technologies and there isn’t always a known organizer.
- It provides an almost discretionary power to the local public authority to approve or not any public assembly. There are City Halls that use this power constantly.
- It allows too easy the use of force for stopping a public assembly.
Usually, the Law of public assemblies applies without any problems in the case of those events that don’t have potential for controversy, but it can be abused in protest rallies, directed against the power. Precisely for this reason the law fails to put into practice the fundamental right provided in the Constitution.
Our proposal to reform the law, guided by the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the recommendations of the OSCE and the Venice Commission widens the space of expression through:
- Elimination of excessive restrictions and prohibitions. For example, notification of public meetings should become an exception rather than a rule. Also, through the bill we propose the unequivocal definition of the conditions under which public meetings may be prohibited in certain areas.
- Elimination of subjective terms, which are now grounds for an arbitrary ban on public gatherings, such as „contrary to morals” or „defamation of the country and nation”.
- Proportionality of sanctions with possible acts committed. For example, mere participation in an undeclared meeting should not be sanctioned, as long as it was not the participant’s obligation to declare it.
- Proportionality of law enforcement intervention with the severity of incidents. For example, intervention to disperse a public assembly may be made only after all other measures to isolate or prevent violent incidents have failed.
- Recognition of spontaneous meetings, both those who are a quick response to an event and those who do not have a recognized and committed organizer.
We believe that, 30 years after the 1990 Mineriads, Romania finally deserves a modern law on public assemblies, worthy of the growing civic appetite of its citizens. Political parties now have the chance to show that they are connected to the needs of citizens who have protested peacefully for the past 10 years. We call on all parliamentary parties to take on the modernization of the law on public assemblies, in order to prove that they understand the purpose of the protest – a fundamental instrument of civic involvement – in consolidating any democracy.
Organizations supporting the project law:
CeRe: Centrul de Resurse pentru participare publică
Centrul pentru Inovare Publică
Asociația Civică Miliția Spirituală
Asociația Parcul Natural Văcărești
Fundația pentru Dezvoltarea Societății Civile (FDSC)
Asociația pentru Tehnologie și Internet (ApTI)
Federația Organizațiilor Naționale pentru Servicii Sociale – FONSS
Centrul pentru Studiul Democrației (CSD)
Atlatszo Erdely Egyesulet – Asociația Transilvania Transparentă