The government has submitted an amendment proposal that would exclude protests from the most important, symbolic public squares of Budapest during national holidays. Furthermore, it would empower local governments to remove further areas a no-protest zone.
What are the most frequently asked questions concerning the draft law and if adopted, how would they affect those who do not want to spend the national holidays with listening to the propaganda of government speakers?
Is it really over, was that all, did the government ban protests on national and state holidays?
No, but the situation is undoubtedly difficult. Should the legislation go through, it would roughly restrict the freedom of assembly, but this doesn’t mean that there would be a total ban. If the legislation goes through, on national and state holidays, and sometimes even in the days around those holidays, there could be no more demonstrations in the main symbolic areas of Budapest or at the typical demonstrations venues. Kossuth Square, for example, would become a forbidden zone for protesters.
This is very rough! Is there a similar situation anywhere else in the world or in the EU?
Similar restrictions on the (more) democratic side of the world are almost unknown as this is a serious fundamental right restriction. In the EU, the most famous example of restricting the right of assembly is the german so-called ban zone prohibiting the assembly around the Bundestag (parliament) but only during parliamentary sessions. The planned Hungarian regulation looks like this at first glance but only on the surface. The German restriction is much more like the part of the old Hungarian Assembly Act that prohibited assembly if the functioning of people’s representative bodies (parliament, local government) is seriously disturbed – this is a legitimate goal. However, the planned Hungarian regulation does not serve the smooth functioning of people’s representative bodies but that the government and the government party maintain the most important public areas for themselves on national, state and other holidays, and this disproportionately restricts the enjoyment of the right of assembly.
And where can people protest on holidays?
For now, this is an open question because the law empowers local governments to define additional public areas in their own decree where only they can celebrate. Thus it may happen that at all the symbolic points of the 5th district people will not be allowed to gather during holidays. The more discarded areas of the city remain where the protesters’ views no longer meet so many people – although one of the aims of enjoying the right of assembly is precisely to draw a widest possible attention. We can see that some of the forbidden areas have been arbitrarily chosen (eg on 15 March, Erzsébet Bridge-Free Press Road-Kossuth Lajos street line, or on 23 October, the Olimpia Park), and the list broadly follows those places where government events have been held in recent years.
But what is this all about?
While the new Assembly Act only entails the possibility of abridgement which can be applied well but it can be misused as well, this amendment is nothing more than an open abridgement. Among other things, the government wants to expropriate national holidays and silence critical groups. In addition, it uses a misleading argument: it refers to the dignity of holidays which is a slur to restricting a very important freedom right such as the right of assembly.
And now what’s going to be like, can someone act against the law?
Yes! The amendment and the decrees of local governments designating „demonstration-free zones” are likely to confront with the basic law as they will unduly and disproportionately restrict the right of assembly. After the adoption of the proposal, if the police do not acknowledge the declaring of your demonstration under this rule, you should contact a court and the Constitutional Court. If you need help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re entrepreneurial and would test the police’s procedure, you can organize a demonstration at a public area right before it even loses its „public area type”. If the law is adopted, it is expected to come into force in May so until then, it is worth protecting our symbolic squares and protesting on the usual places. After the law comes into force, citizens let hear their voices in places so that the authority hears it.
The right of assembly is a fundamental right, the freedom of which is indispensable for a real change. We want a state that gives space and opportunity for new initiatives to unfold. The government can shut itself from disagreements but they will not cease to exist and sooner or later, they will find their ways!