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Amendment to Assemblies Act to ban face covering?

The main goal of the amendment is to introduce a ban on attending public gatherings for persons who cannot be identified because of their clothing or face-covering apparel. According to the proposed new law, such persons will be allowed to take part in a gathering only if the organiser is able to show a link between the purpose of the gathering and participation of individuals with covered faces. Where no such link is established, authorities will be able to ban the gathering.

“We think that the draft amendment to the Assemblies Act presented by the President of Poland is contrary to the principle of freedom of assembly enshrined in the Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and other enactments of international law”, notes Michał Szwast, a lawyer working with the Helsinki Foundation.

According to the Foundation, the draft law disproportionally restricts the freedom of assembly by limiting the participation of people who, for various reasons, do not want to make their likeness public but present no risk for the peaceful maintenance of a gathering. The topic of face covering during demonstrations was already raised by the Constitutional Tribunal, which held in 2004 that such a limitation is unconstitutional. “For no immediately discernible reasons, the draft law copies the measures that had already been found unconstitutional, introducing only vague exceptions”, adds Mr Szwast.

It is also not without significance that the bill was presented to the Sejm on 18 November 2013, a week after the riots that happened during the celebration of the Independence Day in Warsaw.

“Laws should not be drafted in a heat of the moment and under social pressure since this deprives them of rationality which ought to be a key motive behind lawmaking”, says Dr Adam Bodnar, HFHR’s Deputy President. “The current law on the books, including the Police Act, gives the law enforcement services enough options to respond to the risk of a breach of peace during a public gathering”, Dr Bodnar adds.

The proposed amendment has been sent to be further developed in a specially appointed parliamentary sub-committee.

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