The Arab revolution as well as the Taksim square protests in Turkey raised new questions about the scope and precise meaning of the freedom of assembly. This project compared the freedom of assembly with a special view to these questions in Member States of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
In 2010, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission of the Council of Europe) in co-operation with the OSCE/ODIHR panel issued the 2nd edition of its guidelines on freedom of assembly, a comprehensive overview of the normative standards for freedom of assembly legislation within the Commission’s member states. In the Commission’s estimate, these standards presented the grown, established and prevalent principles and best practices of freedom of assembly regulations within its Member States. The guidelines were subject to revision by the Commission as well as the OSCE/ODIHR expert panel as new questions within the scope of the guidelines arose. These new questions concerned, inter alia, the use of social media in the organization of protests or the dynamic concept of the organizer of demonstrations. The comparative study on freedom of assembly regulation within the Commission’s Member States was meant to facilitate and inform this revision of the guidelines which was due in 2014.
Selection of topics
The case studies aimed at presenting a comprehensive overview with regard to the legislative situation in the investigated country with a special regard on new questions (such as flashmobs, social networks, the concept of the organizer, amongst others). The case studies therefore researched into
· the scope of guarantees in constitutional and in primary legislation and case-law,
· legally provided restrictions (legitimate grounds for restrictions; time, place, and manner restrictions; sight and sound),
· procedural issues (such as notification requirements, spontaneous assemblies, assemblies taking place on public property, counter-demonstrations, decision-making, review and appeal) as well as
· questions of implementation (pre-event planning, costs, use of force, liability of enforcement personnel and organizers, monitoring and media access).
Selection of countries
For reasons of time and resources, the authors had to choose representative countries. The choice of jurisdictions aimed at regional representativity (of Eastern, Central, Western European as well as non-European member states), the inclusion of legislative systems influential in the shaping of freedom of assembly (such as the Belgian one), integrating the earliest and therefore pivotal traditions (the US and the UK) and codifications (France as the earliest European codification). Since the study aspired to support the revision of the Venice Commission’s guidelines, its selection of states also encompassed Member States which had in the past received opinions by the Commission (Russia, Armenia, Serbia) or which had been party to proceedings before the ECtHR with regard to freedom of assembly questions (Hungary, Poland, the UK, Turkey, Germany). Another reason to include Tunesia and Turkey had been their part in the Arab Spring revolutions or, respectively, the Taksim square protests. The US and the Ukraine were included simply in order to find a good balance between “old” and “new”, “small” and “big” countries.
In 2016 the book "The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly in Europe", was published by Nomos/Hart. It encompasses a brief introduction, eleven country reports, and an evaluative chapter in which comparative findings are presented.