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Another appeal against the Amendment to Assemblies Act

“The proposed amendment to the Assemblies Act is a serious threat to the freedom of assembly”, warned the members of the Panoptykon Foundation, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Association of Leaders of Local Civic Groups. The organisations announced the appeal made to the Speaker of the Senate (Higher House of the Polish Parliament), in which they called the Senate not to adopt the amendment to the Assemblies Act in its current wording.

The works on this draft amendment commenced on the initiative of President Bronisław Komorowski, in response to the incidents which occurred on 11 November 2011. Following the adoption of the modifications by the Sejm (Lower House of the Polish Parliament) at the end of June this year, the bill was referred to the Senate. Last week it was reviewed by three Senate committees.

Non-governmental organisations have repeatedly protested against the proposed amendment. “In June over thirty NGOs signed the open letter to Speaker of the Sejm Ewa Kopacz”, says Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć, the Association of Leaders of Local Civic Groups. “We called on the authorities not to adopt the amendment as it is currently worded and to review the bill in detail”, adds Ms Batko-Tołuć.

The draft amendment includes a provision stating that an intention to hold a peaceful assembly has to be notified to the authority at least six days prior to the planned date of the event as compared to a currently applicable three-day notice requirement. “This may hinder the organisation of any peaceful assemblies”, says Dr. Adam Bodnar, vice-president of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Dr. Bodnar also notes that the amendment introduces no appeal mechanism against a decision banning an assembly that would comply with the human rights standards. “Under the draft law the appeal is to be heard by an administrative body. In our opinion, the freedom of assembly would be best protected if the court was competent to hear the appeal”, says Dr. Bodnar.

Despite all the earlier suggestions, the amendment fails to address the issue of spontaneous assemblies. “At the same time, in the public life there are increasingly more unexpected situations which require urgent reaction, resulting in the need for the people to gather spontaneously”, says Katarzyna Szymielewicz, Panoptykon Foundation.

The organisations warn that no possibility of holding spontaneous assemblies combined with the more stringent advance registration requirement may violate the essence of the freedom of assembly. “We hope that the Senate will abandon the idea of restricting the freedom of assembly and reject the amendment. If this doesn’t happen, the amended law will become effective following the signing by the President. If so, the only avenue left to us will be to refer the new law to the Constitutional Tribunal’, says Ms Szymielewicz.

For the whole of June, signatures were collected on the watchdog.org.pl website under the open letter which was an expression of the protest against the amendment. By the beginning of last week, more than 160 organisations and above 1,100 persons signed the letter.

In May 2012, the Legislative Department of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights presented its opinion on the amendment. The opinion comprised a number of critical remarks on the proposed modifications, which, however, were not considered in the course of legislative works. “For this reason the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights decided to address the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Assembly and of Association”, says Dr. Bodnar. “In our address we point to those provisions of the amendment which are not compliant with international standards”.

To view the HFHR’s address to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Assembly and of Association, use this link.

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