“The Curia has made a progressive decision that might put an end to the ongoing practice of the police slavishly executing area lockdowns ordered by TEK – be it at the Kossuth square [in front of the Parliament] or in front of the Prime Minister’s house – even if it comes with the disbanding of a legal demonstration and the draining of the freedom of assembly.” – Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ)
Hungary’s highest court, the Curia, has ruled that police may not ban or otherwise obstruct lawful protests on the grounds of securing a protected person. The decision might put an end to the government’s practice of clearing the area around Parliament of protesters by having the Counter Terrorism Centre (TEK) declare the Kossuth Lajos square and adjoining areas secured areas – orders which, in the past, the Budapest standby police have been tasked with enforcing. According to the Curia’s decision, the presence of a protected person or the closure of an area for the protection of a protected person does not necessarily mean that staying or protesting in the closed-down area is forbidden.
Numerous demonstrations, both planned and ongoing, have been hindered or disrupted by TEK with the cooperation of the police over the past few years. Citing the Vienna Convention that regulates the protection of diplomats and high-ranking politicians, police disbanded Gábor ’Tuareg’ Szabó’s Country Assembly Movement (OGYM) protest in front of the Parliament during the visits of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2015. In February this year opposition party Együtt (Together) was forced to move the location of its demonstration against Putin’s visit and the growing Russian dissidence was dislocated after TEK banned all protest activity within a several block radius of Parliament, citing the New York Convention that regulates the prevention of crimes against protected persons.
Although TEK has the right to secure locations, international conventions do not pertain to demonstrations, even ones directed against a protected person. According to Szabolcs Hegyi, Political Freedom Expert with the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the right of assembly does not even fall within the scope of TEK’s competence, but rather within the jurisdiction of the police. According to the Constitution, the police’s primary responsibility is to secure fundamental rights, including the right of assembly. Therefore, in theory at least, the police are supposed to protect demonstrators and ensure the safety of demonstrations, even against TEK.
The Curia’s decision came after Szabó sued the Budapest Police Headquarters (BRFK) for suspending his Country Assembly Movement protest and confiscating its assets before Merkel’s visit. The Metropolitan Administrative and Labor Court rejected the lawsuit. However, the Curia annulled the decision and instructed the administrative court to conduct a new proceeding and issue a new judgement. According to the Curia the administrative court which declared the disbanding of the demonstration lawful should have investigated whether the police had weighed the necessity and proportionality of disbanding the demonstration irrespective of TEK’s decisions. By law the police have numerous tools at their disposal apart from disbanding a demonstration in order to secure an area, for example searching demonstrators and denying persons deemed dangerous from entering the site.