Muzzling Dissent: Freedom of Assembly under Threat in the Euro-Med
In its latest report, Freedom of Assembly under Threat: Muzzling Dissent in the Euro-Mediterranean Region, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) rings the alarm on the increasing stifling of the right to peaceful assembly in the region.
The report was launched at the European Parliament on 8 December 2014 to mark the International Human Rights Day. During the event, sponsored by the European Parliament Vice President for Democracy and Human Rights, Mr Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, EMHRN members presented the main findings of the report and made a set of recommendations to EU decision makers.
The speakers particularly addressed the situation of freedom of assembly in Morocco, Egypt and Europe. They underlined that meetings and demonstrations – especially those critical of the authorities – are viewed by states in the Euro-Mediterranean region as a political and security risk to be contained, and not as a component of democratic life and a right whose exercise the authorities must facilitate.
‘The right of assembly is in Morocco is in real danger’, warned Abdelslam Lassal of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH). ‘The Moroccan authorities have been relentless in their crackdown on human rights organisations in general, and those working on the right of assembly in particular.’
‘All those wishing to publicly protest in Egypt face significant risks,’ said Bahey Eldin Hassan, Director of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “Human rights organisations that defend the rights of murdered protesters and prisoners are punished through defamation campaigns, media distortion, the pursuit of their staff and threats of closure and confiscation.”
In Europe also, if the respect for civil liberties is the rule rather than the exception, many restrictions and obstacles to the freedom of assembly are a reminder that rights must be constantly defended and exercised lest they lose their substance.
‘Protest is a healthy, democratic exercise, crucial to good governance and accountability,’ said Rosa Curling, Solicitor International Human Rights Group (SIHRG). “However, many European member states view protest at best as an inconvenience to be controlled or discouraged, and at worst a threat to be suppressed.’
‘It is essential for a democracy to enable opposition, differing and minority views to be expressed publicly and peacefully through the exercise of the right of assembly and demonstration,’ said Isaías Barreñada, member of the Executive committee ‘Therefore, the European Union should use every opportunity for dialogue with the authorities of both its member states and its neighbouring countries, to promote the development of a more conducive environment for the freedom of assembly.’
He also called on the EU to make the respect and promotion of freedom of assembly an EU priority in the revised EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy and European Neighbourhood Policy.
In 2013, EMHRN published the first part of the report examining the legislative framework of the right of assembly in 11 countries of the Mediterranean and the European Union and their compliance with international human rights standards. This second part complements the regional study with an analysis of the implementation of laws and the exercise of the freedom of assembly and demonstration in practice.
Download the separate chapters by country-region: