Public hearing on an amendment to the Assemblies Act
The public hearing on the presidential proposal of an amendment to the Assemblies Act took place in the Sejm on 7 March 2012 (Sejm paper no. 35). In total, nine organisations applied to participate in the hearing. These were, among others, the Forum of Civic Development, the Panoptykon Foundation, the Independence March Association and the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
During the hearing Professor Ireneusz Kamiński, an expert with the HFHR, noted that the currently operating laws on public assemblies were obsolete and called for a comprehensive amendment of the Assemblies Act. Professor Kamiński pointed out that the presidential proposal failed to address the crucial obstacle to the freedom of assembly in Poland, namely the Poland’s failure to execute the judgment in Bączkowski and Others vs. Poland. The expert also criticised the presidential bill for failing to introduce a category of ‘spontaneous assemblies’.
In the opinion of Artur Pietryka, HFHR, the proposed face-covering prohibition for participants in public gatherings will, sooner or later, result in the act being declared unconstitutional as a similar provision has been already challenged by the Constitutional Tribunal. According to Mr Pietryka, serious doubts are also raised by the new penal provisions included in the amendment.
Marta Kube with the Forum of Civic Development assessed that the proposed legal regulations aimed at limiting the freedom of public assemblies in Poland. She argued that the Act in its present form provided all the required safeguards of the freedom of assemblies and, at the same time, enabled the authorities to prevent violence.
According to representatives of the Independence March Association, the proposed amendment was ‘a legislative blunder’ and an example of short-sighted, reactionary legislation. They claimed the majority of proposals from the presidential bill such as the face-covering prohibition contravened the case law of the Constitutional Tribunal. Further, the Association’s spokepersons argued that the proposed amendment, in its part allowing for the separation of assemblies reported to take place at the same time and place, would be a major limitation of the freedom of public assembly because of the wide discretionary powers bestowed upon local authorities.
On 14 March 2012, the Sejm Committees: for Justice and Human Rights and Administration and Internal Affairs will decide upon the motion for the appointment of a special subcommittee to consider the presidential amendment.