The legal framework provides guarantees for exercising the right to freedom of assembly in the Constitution of the Republic of North Macedonia, and the key law is the Law on Public Assemblies (LPA) according to which the citizens have the right to spontaneous, simultaneous and counter-assembly, with no prior notice requirement. The LPA provides for clearly listed limitations on the places of gathering. The LPA has certain shortcomings which were not improved throughout the year: the obligations and responsibilities of the organizer of the rally are not clearly defined, high fines for the organizer in case of damages, foreigners need to ask for approval to be able to gather with severe penalties for non-compliance with the provisions.
By the end of 2019, an extensively amended and restrictive version of the LPA was prepared and shared for public consultations on ENER: a minimum of 50 people to hold an assembly, expanding the list of places where gatherings are restricted, prohibition for the participants to cover their faces and head, and regulation for holding an assembly between 06 and 23 h. Relevant CSOs were not consulted in the preparation of these measures, and after serious reactions from the public and CSOs on social media, the Government quickly reacted and withdrew the law.
The key law regulating the use of force in public assemblies is the Law on Police. During 2019, the Law on Police was not improved in areas which were identified as flaws: keeping video recording for 45 days and undertaking audio and video recording without notification.
CSOs were enabled and protected to hold numerous peaceful public gatherings with and without prior authorizations. Simultaneous, spontaneous and counter-assemblies have taken place. During 2019 a total number of 525 announced and 298 unannounced public gatherings were recorded by the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Most of the gatherings 67% (361 announced and 189 unannounced) aimed to express protest or opinion on issues which concerned certain groups of citizens, while 33% (164 announced and 109 unannounced) were rallies of political parties related to presidential elections and other activities of political parties. More than half of the announced (56%) and unannounced (55%) gatherings were held in Skopje.
0 – 20 Fully disabling environment20 – 40 Disabling environment
40 – 60 Partially enabling environment60 – 80 Enabling environment
80 – 100 Fully enabling environment
The issues that the citizens were protesting were numerous and diverse. Most of the protests held in Skopje were against the name change (141). followed by protests on the workers’ rights (121 protests in 8 cities), protection of the environment and climate change (63 protests in 7 cities), the need for improvement of local infrastructure (26 in 4 cities), agriculture (17 in 4 cities), and other issues. Aside from the protests related to the name change, we can conclude that environment was the most prominent issue that people were protesting about (various aspects of the environment such as air pollution, mines, landfill, cutting trees, garbage, climate change, etc.). In addition, numerous workers have taken the streets to raise their concerns over their conditions and status. Certain requests were fulfilled by the Government, for instance, the Ilovica mine in Strumica. The Government annulled the contract with the concessioner after and the activism was mobilized and pressured for revocation of the permit.
According to the survey, 60,7% (99) respondents have taken part in a public gathering either individually or through the organization (both as participants and organizers).
Chart 3. Have you or any other individual from your organization faced any of the following situations during practicing the right to free assembly: (%)
Few limitations to the gatherings were registered. A total of 12 cases report administrative burdens and other restrictions (five cases of administrative burdens; three limitations to physical access; three limitations to the desired time for protest; and in one case, the excessive use of force by the police).
The total number of detained persons in the public rallies were: Skopje (8) and in Ohrid (1-political rally). Complaints against police officers from dissatisfied citizens of police behavior during the public gatherings were submitted in Bitola. In addition, the MIA Unit for Internal Control, Criminal Investigations and Professional Standards acted upon two complaints against the use of police force during a public gathering (during a handball match, and during protest performance against police brutality). They were all considered as unfounded.