The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Czechia is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Czechia is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Czechia is a State Party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
An integral component of the 1992 Constitution of the Czech Republic (Czechia) is the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.Art. 3, 1992 Constitution of the Czech Republic.Article 19 of the 1992 Charter provides as follows:
(1) The right of peaceful assembly is guaranteed.
(2) This right may be limited by law in the case of assemblies held in public places, if it concerns measures necessary in a democratic society for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, public order, health, morals, property, or the security of the state. However, an assembly shall not be made to depend on the grant of permission by a public administrative authority.
The primary legislation governing assemblies in Czechia is Law 84/1990 on Freedom of Assembly (as amended). According to Section 1(3) of the 1990 Law: "No prior authorisation from a public authority is required for an assembly."
The Law requires prior notification of a public assembly five days in advance.S. 5, Law 84/1990.In justified cases, however, the relevant authority may accept notification within a shorter period. Spontaneous assemblies are also permitted. In all cases, however, a duty is, though, imposed on the organiser to ensure the assembly remains peaceful.S. 6, Law 84/1990.
Aliens, infants, people without full legal capacity, and non-resident legal entities are precluded from organising an assembly.
According to Czechia's report in the context of its 2018 Universal Periodic Review under the United Nations Human Rights Council, the country's Supreme Administrative Court has delivered judgments on the protection of the freedom of assembly, which were followed by changes in legislation.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Police conduct in the Czech Republic is regulated by the 2008 Police Act. The Act requires that the Czech police use proportionate force.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Czechia does not specifically regulate police use of firearms in the context of assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Czechia, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Czechia has not been found in violation of the right of peaceful assembly under the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.
Constitutional Court Judgment No. 164/15 (2015)
Stop Genocidě, an anti-abortion association, held a meeting on a square in the town of Chrastava near an elementary school. The meeting included an exhibition of photographs of aborted human embryos and Nazi symbols, with abortions compared to the holocaust. The municipality banned the assembly. Stop Genocidě filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court demanding the ban be declared unconstitutional.
Stop Genocidě argued that they meant to shock in order to provoke a debate, but not to confront children. They cited both the 1990 Law on Assembly and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms. The Constitutional Court, however, decided that the prohibition was not unlawful, concluding that the interference with the complainant's right of assembly was necessary and proportionate. The Court referred to Article 24(1) and (2) of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which states that children have the right to protection and care necessary for their well-being, and that in all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration. The state, the Court held, has a duty to prevent a child from any negative display that may negatively affect his or her moral and mental development.
Views of Civil Society
As CIVICUS has reported, as of 12 October 2020, the right to peaceful assembly was limited to a maximum of 500 people due to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 18 October 2020, anti-lockdown protesters gathered at the Old Town Square in Prague to condemn the measures that banned sports competitions and the restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants. The protest, which was initially legal, grew in large numbers. However, several protesters started to throw objects including beer bottles, flares and stones at the police protecting public order. The police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse the protest. Meanwhile, the Million Moments for Democracy-led demonstrations against the Babiš government have been staged online during the pandemic.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Czechia:
Freedom of assembly is upheld in practice, and demonstrations take place frequently and without incident. Thousands of protesters assembled in Prague in November 2018 to demand Prime Minister Babiš’s resignation over corruption allegations.