The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Greece 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.
Greece 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, Greece 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
According to Article 11 of the 1975 Constitution of the Hellenic Republic:
(1) Greeks have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms as the law provides.
(2) The police may be present at public open air meetings only. Open air meetings may be prohibited by police decision stating the reasons, generally if danger to public security is imminent therefrom, and in the case of specific areas if the disruption of social and economic life is seriously threatened, as the law provides.
The primary legislation in Greece governing assemblies is the 1971 Assembly ActAct 794/1971.A notification regime is in place. The organizers may face three months’ imprisonment and a fine if proper notification for an assembly is not provided.OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Report, Monitoring of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly in Selected OSCE Participating States (May 2013–July 2014); and OSCE ODIHR Report on Greece for the 2016 UPR.Failure to notify also renders the assembly liable to dispersal even if it is entirely peaceful.
The Act does not protect “gatherings that take place randomly and without preparation”. It gives the police the discretion to prohibit or disperse such an assembly.Article 1(4), Act 794/1971 of Greece.Other reasons for which a public assembly can be dispersed are in cases of violence, especially when there is a direct threat to life or to the physical integrity of the participants, or a threat to public security and public order, as well as in cases where the participants are breaking the law.Art. 7, Act 794/1971.
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.
According to the 2004 Code of Police Ethics, the Hellenic Police shall "respect every person’s right to life and security". The police do not "inflict, instigate or tolerate acts of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
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.
Wtih respect to the use of firearms, the relevant legislation is the Law No. 3169/2003 on the “Carrying and use of firearms by police officers, training of police officers in the use of firearms and other provisions”. This 2003 Law allows the use of firearms where there is a threat of an armed attack against a police officer or another person and the use of firearms is proportionate to the severity of the threat.Art. 3, Law No. 3169/2003 on the Carrying and use of firearms by police officers, training of police officers in the use of firearms and other provisions.
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Greece, the Committee against Torture expressed concern at reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers acting to disperse demonstrators during the period under review. These included:
beatings and shooting of tear-gas canisters directly at people during an anti-fascist protest in Keratsini, in 2013, as well as police violence and extensive use of tear gas against migrants and asylum seekers protesting about living conditions in the RICs – ‘hotspots’ of Moria (Lesbos) and Samos, in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The Committee called on Greece to:
(a) Review the crowd control procedures applied by the Hellenic Police in the context of demonstrations, including the use of tear gas, hand-held batons and shields, to ensure that they are not used indiscriminately and excessively or against peaceful protestors and that they do not result in an escalation of tension;
(b) Ensure that prompt, impartial and effective investigations are undertaken into all allegations relating to ill-treatment and the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, in particular members of the Hellenic Police, and ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and the victims are adequately compensated;
(c) Increase the efforts to systematically provide training to all law enforcement officers on the use of force, especially in the context of demonstrations, taking into account the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Greece, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
There has not been a case in recent years at the European Court of Human Rights where a violation has been found of the right of peaceful assembly by Greece.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS has reported that
On 17 November 2020, hundreds of people gathered in Athens to remember the 1973 student uprising. Every year on this day, thousands gather in front of the Athens Polytechnic to remember the protesters who died there. In order to prevent this year’s march from happening, the government tightened the restrictions on gatherings to a maximum of three people between 15 and 18 November 2020 citing the strain on the healthcare system. Human rights groups raised concerns about the blanket ban on the right to protest. Several other protests were staged which saw police using excessive force and detaining protesters. Concerns have been raised over the increase in police brutality during protests. Journalists were also targeted through detentions and harassment from police at protests.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Greece:
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution, and the government generally protects this right. Austerity-related protests over the past decade have sometimes grown violent, and extremist groups like Golden Dawn have attempted to attack and intimidate assemblies in support of migrants’ rights or other causes they oppose. However, such instances have become less frequent since a crackdown on Golden Dawn’s leadership began in 2013, and police have improved their handling of security surrounding demonstrations.
Largely peaceful protests were held during 2018 in opposition to a bilateral deal signed in June that would allow the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to be called “North Macedonia”; Athens had previously objected to the neighboring country’s use of the name “Macedonia,” arguing that it was part of Greece’s ancient heritage and could imply territorial claims over a Greek region of the same name.