From September 1 to November 30, 2020, the Democracy Research Institute observed 40 rallies organized by political parties, civil movements, and three trials of civil rights activists arrested during the rallies/demonstrations. The purpose of the observation was to assess the degree of freedom of political assembly in the context of the pre-election campaign and after the election day.
DRI’s Observations and legal analysis of current events have shown that, compared to previous years, protection of freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated. The reasons may be attributed to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the weakening of parliamentary control, as well as to the authorities' neglect of the legal framework related to freedom of assembly.
The protests were observed in the background of tense political, social, and geopolitical conditions. Since October, the surge in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths has been added to the problem, which has posed additional challenges for both the ruling party and the opposition. In response to the existing problems, the ruling political power gave the political actors complete freedom of assembly before the election day and held them politically and morally responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. For its part, the country's highest representative body virtually refused to perform its legislative and oversight functions, and with legislative changes of May 2020, delegated part of its powers to government agencies, depriving the public of the opportunity to engage in the review of the appropriateness of the restrictions.On the other hand, a significant challenge for the organisers of the rallies and demonstrations was to ensure that participants of large assemblies followed regulations introduced because of Covid-19. Although the rally organisers were mostly taking necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, in the case of large rallies, physical distancing was not practised and often demonstrators failed to wear masks properly.
As the observation demonstrated, law-enforcement authorities mostly reacted, based on the principle of selective justice, to the actions of demonstrators. For instance, while law-enforcement officers did not allow civil society activists to bring firewood to the rally or put up posters on the fences, they did not respond appropriately to far more serious violations by members of a far-right extremist group.Our monitoring of court hearings revealed that the standard of protection of the rights of individuals arrested during rallies and demonstrations has dropped significantly. When examining administrative offences, the court pronounced the arrested persons as offenders only based on inconsistent and contradictory testimonies of the patrol inspectors. This approach differs significantly from the results of the monitoring conducted by the DRI from 31 December 2019 to March 2020, when the court relied solely on the findings of the examination of video evidence, which in many cases substantially undermined the credibility of the testimonies adduced by the patrol inspectors questioned as witnesses.