The freedom of assembly is protected in the Constitution of Montenegro in Article 52. It guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly, without approval, with prior notification to competent authority. In the same article cases in which this right can be temporarily limited are listed. Those cases are prevention of disorder or crime, protection of health or moral, or for the safety of people and property, in accordance with the law.
This area is regulated by the Law on Public Assemblies and Public Performances adopted in 2016. The good sides of this Law are that it contains positive obligations for the state in issues related to the safety of people, property, protection of human rights and freedoms, health, which must be performed by the police in cooperation with other competent bodies and services. The Law defines public gatherings as “any peaceful gathering of more than 20 people outdoors to express political, social and other beliefs and goals, protests, interests and diversity”. In addition, the Law puts clear restrictions to hold an assembly closer than 15m from the Parliament, Presidential Building and Constitutional Court, or within 10m proximity to the Government building.
Spontaneous assemblies are also recognized and allowed by the Law on Public Assemblies and Public Performances. Other assemblies must be reported to the authorities (Police Department) at least five days before they take place. The notification must contain place and date of the gathering and name of the person responsible for it. Police may temporarily restrict freedom of public assembly if such restriction is necessary “to prevent disturbance of law and order, the commission of criminal offenses, endangering human rights and freedoms and special minority rights and freedoms of others, security of persons and property, or at the request of the authorities the state administration competent for health affairs, in the event of a health threat”. The police may also make a decision not to allow a public meeting to be held if it is not timely and duly reported. The organizer may file a lawsuit to the Administrative Court of Montenegro, no later than 24 hours after receiving the decision.
0 – 20 Fully disabling environment20 – 40 Disabling environment
40 – 60 Partially enabling environment60 – 80 Enabling environment
80 – 100 Fully enabling environment
During 2019, the Police Department secured 425 public gatherings, which were in accordance with the Law, while three requests for gatherings were denied out of which all three referred to religious gatherings organized by the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (1 gathering) and the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral (2 gatherings). Two gathering requests referred to the same event on the same day, whereas the Police Department banned them due to the possibility of disturbing public order and peace (since these are opposing churches).
Respondents of the online questionnaire who participated in public gatherings (47.9%) stated the following: 13% said that administrative procedure for organizers were complicated, 8.7% said that they faced restrictions on participating in public gatherings, while 8.7% stated that due to the restriction, participants were not able to gather at the agreed time. 8.7% of organizations who participated in public gatherings reported that police restricted the gathering because it was not reported to the authorities. Respondents stated that they did attend various types of assembly. For instance, 20.8% responded they participated in simultaneous assemblies, while 10.4% reported they attended spontaneous assemblies. None of the CSOs were familiar with cases where the police banned the assembly due to the possibility of counter-protests. 8.7% of CSOs who participated in public assemblies during 2019, said that spontaneous assembly was banned or dispersed because the official authorities were not informed about it nor the official permission was obtained.
Media representatives have been able to access and freely report on public gatherings and they did not witness any restrictions in this regard. No such cases have been recorded by the Ombudsman either, whether by initiative of a physical or legal entity, or by official duty. When it comes to police protection, 65.2% of CSOs who participated in assemblies said the police did not assure peaceful assembly, nor it took precautionary measures during spontaneous assemblies. Official response from Ombudsman was that there were cases recorded where the police did not assure peaceful assembly, whether by initiative of a physical or legal entity, or by official duty. Although a significant number of organisations answered that they feel the police did not assure peaceful assembly and protected them, none of them reported that to the Ombudsman or any other authority, as per official information from these institutions.4.3% of organizations that participated in public assemblies reported that the police used excessive force on participants. Online questionnaire’s respondents said that they witnessed detention of participants of public assemblies (13.04%). Few interview participants of informal groups stated that the police even used excessive force on old people, people with health issues and pregnant women, which was also debated a lot in the media. In addition, some of these participants were detained in the police station. At the very end of 2019, i.e. on December 27, 2019, the Parliament adopted Law on Freedom of Religion which caused a lot of disturbances, not only in the public but also in the Parliament. While the Law was being debated in the Parliament, an incident occurred among MPs, which resulted in the opposition representatives being excluded from the voting on the Law. During the entire day the Law was debated, spontaneous public gatherings occurred in several Montenegrin cities and resulted in protests and riots, while some municipalities were blocked. More than 30 people were detained.
The media also reported excessive use of force during civic initiatives and protests. Many video recordings of excessive police force during various gatherings were published on online media and portals, which were condemned by the public.