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Image: Poland must drop restrictive amendments to law on assemblies

Poland must drop restrictive amendments to law on assemblies

Polish authorities have proposed restrictive amendments to the law on assemblies. HRHF sees this law as retaliation against those protesting in the past year against government policies. It creates a hurdle for organisers critical of the government and the Church, while ensuring that their own supporters are able to protest.

Thursday, 01 December 2016, by humanrightshouse.org

Update 8 December

On 7 December, the Polish Senate adopted two amendments to the proposed law on assemblies. These clean away the elements favouring the State and Church over other assemblies. This amended law will now be sent back to the lower chamber of Parliament.

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"If the law enters into force, it will significantly reduce the possibility of counter or spontaneous protests," the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) writes in a statement.

The president of HFHR, Danuta Przywara, elaborated on how prioritising the protests of certain groups and those at certain times over others restricts civil and political rights: "Guaranteeing a priority by the public authority in the organisation at a given time and place of assembly contradicts civil law to counter protests and the free expression of ideas." 

The draft bill amending the law on assemblies ("Poselski projekt ustawy o zmianie ustawy - Prawo o zgromadzeniach" in Polish) was approved on Wednesday 30 November 2016 by the Parliament in its first reading. The Parliament did not organise hearings or consultations on the matter and indeed rushed the project through the parliamentary process. 

HRHF calls upon the parliament of Poland to drop these amendments to the law on assemblies, and respect the right of all groups to assemble, without discrimination.

The amendments are a breach to the right to freedom of assembly enriched in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Poland. The Parliament is still to approve the draft law in a final reading, as is the Senate. It must then be signed by the President.

The draft law would introduce the problematic element of “cyclical assemblies” (“zgromadzeń cy klicznych”) – a special designation granted by the government that offers facilities to organise assemblies that take place regularly to celebrate especially important events in Poland’s history.

This would mean that assemblies not recognised as "cyclical" would not be authorised to take place at the same time in the same location. This would thereby introduce a discriminatory measure favouring assemblies organised by the government or its supporters and by the Church.

Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at HRHF, commented: "One can easily imagine that any demonstration organised by critics of the government’s policies would be met with a counter-demonstration sympathetic to the government, which by the letter of the new law would "supersede" the demonstration by government critics and likely lead to it being banned. This is the concern."

Under current rules, the authorities give precedence to the organisers that file the first request to organise an assembly, irrespective of the aims of the gathering.

These amendments are presented amid a "constitutional crisis" in Poland and protests taking place regularly throughout the country against government policies, including the "black protests" against changes to the abortion law.

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