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Constitutional Court orders gov’t to harmonize laws governing freedom of assembly

In a landmark decision, Hungary’s Constitutional Court has rejected a motion submitted on behalf of a group of protestors who argued that police violated their constitutional right to hold a demonstration in front of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Budapest residence.

This story goes back to December 2014 when people affected by adverse interest rates from foreign currency denominated loans held protests around Budapest. One such protest would have taken place in front of the prime minister’s house, but police prevented that from happening. Ultimately, a motion was filed with the Constitutional Court which argued that the police action violated the constitutional rights of citizens to assemble.

According to the Court’s decision, the protestors’ constitutional right to freedom of assembly was not violated, but that the existence of contradictory laws on the subject was unconstitutional.

The Court’s underlying argument was that the protestors’ right to freedom of assembly was lawfully curtailed by the police because holding the demonstration would have interfered with the rights and freedoms of others (in this case Prime Minister Orbán).

In short, the Court ordered parliament to author a new law governing the right to assembly by the end of the year.  The decision prompted Justice Minister László Trócsányi to announce that the government planned to modify legislation governing the right of assembly.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) says the Constitutional Court’s decision carries with it implications far beyond the curtailing of the right to freedom of assembly in front of the prime minister’s house.

According to the HCLU, current laws governing the freedom to assembly clearly stipulate that the right can only be curtailed to protect another assembly of people, either planned or under way, and that restricting a planned assembly of people for any other reason is unlawful.

The HCLU thinks that in the event parliament authors a new law on the freedom to assemble, any such move would allow the state to arbitrarily decide whether the freedom to assemble potentially infringes on any rights.

In other words, law enforcement agencies would have carte blanche discretion to make unilateral decisions regarding the curtailing of one of the most important freedoms granted to citizens.

The HCLU argues that curtailing the freedom to assemble should only be permitted for the sole purpose of protecting constitutional rights. If law enforcement agencies are granted the opportunity to arbitrarily decide to restrict this right to citizens, they will certainly abuse this power.

Benjamin Novak :