EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Stankov and the
United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Mrs W. Thomassen,
Mr L. Ferrari Bravo,
Mr J. Casadevall,
Mr B. Zupancic,
Mr T. Pantîru,
Mrs S. Botoucharova, judges,
and Mr M. O’Boyle, Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the last-mentioned date:
1. The case originated in two applications
(nos. 29221/95 and 29225/95) against Bulgaria lodged with the European
Commission of Human Rights (“the Commission”) under former Article 25 of the
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the
Convention”) by Mr Boris Stankov
and the United Macedonian Organisation Ilinden (“the applicants”). The applications were
2. The applicants appointed as their representative Mr Iordan Kostadinov Ivanov, a Bulgarian
citizen residing in Sandanski, who was chairman of
the applicant association for an unspecified period. In June 1998 Mr Ivanov, in turn,
instructed Mr L. Hincker, a
lawyer practising in
The Bulgarian Government (“the Government”) were represented by their Agent, Mrs G. Samaras, of the Ministry of Justice.
3. The applicants alleged a violation of Article 11
of the Convention in respect of the authorities’ refusal to allow the holding
of their commemorative meetings on
4. Having joined the applications and declared them
partly inadmissible on
5. The applications were allocated to the First Section of the Court (Rule 52 § 1 of the Rules of Court). Within that Section, the Chamber that would consider the case (Article 27 § 1 of the Convention) was constituted as provided in Rule 26 § 1 of the Rules of Court.
6. By letter of
By letter of
7. A hearing, which was initially scheduled for 12 September 2000 but was postponed upon the Government’s request, took place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 17 October 2000 (Rule 59 § 2).
There appeared before the Court:
(a) for the Government
Mrs G. Samaras, Ministry of Justice, Agent;
Mr L. Hincker, Avocat, Counsel,
Mrs M. Lemaitre, Adviser.
Mr Iordan Kostadinov Ivanov, chairman of the applicant association, was also present.
The Court heard addresses by Mr Hincker and Mrs Samaras.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
9. The United Macedonian Organisation
Ilinden (“the applicant association” or “Ilinden”) is an association based in south-west
Mr Boris Stankov is a Bulgarian citizen who was born in 1926 and resides in Petrich. At the relevant time he was the chairman of a branch of the applicant association.
A. Background of the case
1. The founding and the dissolution of the applicant association
10. The United Macedonian Organisation
Ilinden was founded on
According to the applicants’ submissions before the Court, the
main activity of the applicant association was the organisation
of celebrations to commemorate historical events of importance for Macedonians
11. In 1990 Ilinden applied
for, but was refused, registration. In the proceedings for registration the
12. In their decisions of July and November 1990 and
March 1991 the courts found that the applicant association’s aims were directed
against the unity of the nation, that it advocated national and ethnic hatred,
and that it was dangerous for the territorial integrity of
13. The judgment of the Supreme Court of
“[T]he lower courts correctly established that the aims of the [applicant association] under its statute and programme were directed against the unity of the nation... [The material in the case] demonstrates that the [applicant association] seeks to disseminate the ideas of Macedonianism among the Bulgarian population, especially in a particular geographical area. [Those ideas] presuppose the ‘denationalisation’ of the Bulgarian population and its conversion into a Macedonian population.... It follows that the [applicant association] is directed against the unity of the nation and is therefore prohibited under Article 35 § 3 of the  Constitution ...”
14. It appears undisputed between the parties that during the relevant period the applicant association underwent changes of leadership and that there was internal conflict. Its local branches or separate factions differed in their views and activities.
2. Public meetings prior to the period under consideration
15. The applicant association held a meeting for the
first time on
“1. Our rights as a minority, of which we have been deprived, should be guaranteed to us in accordance with the international agreements on minorities.
2. The introduction of the
[study of] the Macedonian language, history and culture in all educational
institutions in Pirin
3. The right to radio and television broadcasts in the Macedonian language...
5. That an end be put to the assimilation process and the destruction of the Macedonian culture.
6. The right to publish in the Macedonian language...
7. ...that the Macedonian church should be independent...
8. That all Bulgarian
political parties on the
14. The complete cultural,
economic and political autonomy of Pirin
16. Should the Bulgarian Government not respond positively to our demands, Ilinden shall appeal to the United Nations Organisation, the [Conference on] Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Parliament, the Great Powers, in the interest of peace in the Balkans and in Europe and with a view to avoiding military conflicts due to the emerging nationalism in Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Albania, with the following demands: annulment of the separatist military union of 20 February 1912 between Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, withdrawal of the invaders from the occupied territories, ... unification of Macedonia under the auspices of the United Nations and with the protection of the Great Powers ...”
17. According to a police report, drawn up in 1998 by
the director of the police in the region and submitted to the Court by the
Government, “fierce anti-Bulgarian declarations” had been made at the meetings
As explained in the report, on
The report concluded:
“...[T]he events organised by Ilinden are provocative. There is a real risk of incidents. For that reason, since 1992 the municipalities in the region normally refuse to allow such events to proceed. With a view to protecting the law, the assistance of the prosecuting authorities and of the police is normally sought.”
18. The applicants submitted copies of photographs, written testimonies and statements of persons who claimed that on several occasions between 1990 and 1994 there had been police actions and acts of private individuals obstructing the activities of the applicant association.
They also submitted copies of newspaper articles accusing Ilinden of misappropriating Bulgarian national symbols,
describing its leaders as uneducated, mentally ill or traitors, and denying the
existence of a Macedonian minority in
B. Prohibitions against the holding of meetings during the period under consideration
1. Events of July 1994
19. In July 1994 Mr Stankov, as chairman of the Petrich
branch of the applicant association, requested the mayor of Petrich
to authorise a meeting in the area of Samuilova krepost,
to be held on
20. Despite the refusal of the authorities, on
In the Government’s submission, the allegation that the area had been sealed off was “manifestly ill-founded”.
2. Events of April 1995
This was refused on
The applicants submitted that a group of their supporters who
had travelled to the Rozhen
3. Events of July 1995
23. In July 1995, as in previous years, the applicant
association again requested authorisation to hold a
commemorative meeting on
4. Events of April 1997
25. On 15 April 1997 Ilinden appealed to the Sandanski District Court against the mayor’s refusal stating inter alia that the mayor had not allowed them, “as a separate ethnic community”, to organise a meeting at the tomb of their national hero.
26. The date on which that order was notified to the
applicant association is unclear. The applicants initially denied having
received a response to their appeal, but in later submissions to the Commission
stated that on
27. As the defects in the appeal were not remedied
within the statutory seven-days’ time-limit, on
28. The applicants claimed that on
5. Events of July and August 1997
By decision of
31. The applicants submitted that on
C. Other evidence concerning the aims and the activities of the applicant association and its supporters
32. The parties made submissions and presented copies of documents concerning the activities of the applicant association.
It appears that some of the documents relied upon by the Government concern statements of persons adhering to a faction or a branch of the applicant association. Those groups apparently differed in their views and activities.
33. The Government relied on the declaration of
The Government submitted that during meetings, in letters to institutions or in statements to the media persons associated with the applicant association and its supporters had made declarations to the effect that they wished that the Bulgarians left the region of Pirin Macedonia and stated that there could be “no peace on the Balkans unless the Bulgarians, the Geeks and all others recognise the national rights of the Macedonian people and no democracy in any Balkan country without such recognition”.
34. The Government submitted copies of several issues
of Vestnik za Makedonzite v Balgaria i
further invited all Macedonians to a procession in
35. A hand-written poster, allegedly issued by
followers of the applicant association in Petrich,
called for a boycott of the 1994 parliamentary elections “to prevent the
establishment of legitimate Bulgarian authorities in the region” of Pirin
36. An appeal for a boycott of the 1997 elections stated that the Macedonians should abstain from voting in protest against the lack of recognition of their rights as a minority.
37. In a declaration published in the press in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the leaders of a faction linked to the applicant association criticised the Bulgarian authorities for their refusal to recognise the Macedonian language and the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria and appealed to various international organisations to exert pressure on the Bulgarian authorities in this respect.
38. The Government submitted a copy of a “memorandum”
addressed to the United Nations, signed by activists of the applicant association
or a faction of it, dated
The appeal also stated:
“[...] being conscious of the
contemporary economic and political realities in the Balkans,
Our peaceful and lawful means [...] are to the advantage of the authorities who [...] deny the existence of a Macedonian minority. Our democratic ways are to our detriment: the authorities can afford political, economic and psychological pressure, and arms.”
39. Before the Court the Government relied on a
judgment of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court of
40. The Constitutional Court noted that UMOIPIRIN
could be regarded as a successor to or a continuation of the applicant
association. On that basis the
In particular, the
41. The Constitutional Court thus found that the applicant association and UMOIPIRIN considered the region of Pirin as a territory which was only temporarily under Bulgarian control and would soon become independent. Their activities were therefore directed against the territorial integrity of the country and were as such prohibited under Article 44 § 2 of the 1991 Constitution. The prohibition was in conformity with Article 11 § 2 of the Convention, there being no doubt that an activity against the territorial integrity of the country endangered its national security.
The judgment was adopted by nine votes to three. The dissenting justices gave separate opinions which have not been published.
D. Evidence submitted by the Government in support of their allegation that some of the members of the applicant association were in possession of arms
42. In support of this allegation the Government have submitted copies of two documents.
43. The first is a copy of an article from the Kontinent daily newspaper, dated 1/2 March 1997. The newspaper informed that a Mr D.P.K. had been arrested in Petrich for having threatened police officers with blowing up their homes, as they had impeded his business. During the arrest the police had allegedly discovered explosives in Mr D.P.K.’s home. The short publication went on by recalling that Mr D.P.K. was allegedly a leader of Ilinden and a “Macedonian activist”.
44. The second submission appears to be a photocopy of a flyer announcing the founding of an organisation and inviting those interested to join. The document bears no signature. It dates allegedly from 1995 and appears to have been typed on a typewriter.
The flyer explained that the newly created United Macedonian Organisation Nova did not wish to replace Ilinden. It criticised certain leaders of the applicant association.
The flyer further stated that the new organisation
would form armed groups with the aim of “helping the
45. The Government have not provided any comment or additional information on the contents of the two documents submitted by them.
46. During the hearing before the Court, in response to a question put to her, the Government’s agent informed the Court that no criminal proceedings relevant to the present case have ever been brought against members of the applicant association.
E. Government’s summary of the historical context
47. The Government stressed that knowledge of the
historical context and of the current situation in
“Historically, the Bulgarian nation
consolidated within several geographical regions, one of them being the
geographical region of
In 1934 the so-called ‘Macedonian
nation’ was proclaimed for the first time by a resolution of the Communist
International. Before that no reliable historical source had ever mentioned any
Slavic population in the region other than the Bulgarian population. After the
Second World War the Communist power in
In those parts of the geographical region of Macedonia which were in Yugoslavia the realities of the bi-polar cold-war world – where the relations between Yugoslavia and the socialist block dominated by the USSR were tense – exacerbated the population’s feeling of doom and exasperation and their fear that unification with Bulgaria proper would never be possible. The forcible imposition of a Macedonian identity by the Tito regime also played a decisive role.
Therefore, even if a process of
formation of a new nation has taken place, it was limited to the territory of
In the 1992 census, only 3,019 Bulgarian citizens identified themselves as Macedonians and indicated Macedonian as their mother tongue. Another 7,784 declared themselves Macedonians in the geographical sense, while allegedly indicating their Bulgarian national conscience and mother tongue.
Individuals considering themselves
Macedonians are far from being discriminated against in
II. RELEVANT DOMESTIC LAW
48. The provisions of the Constitution of July 1991 concerning freedom of assembly read as follows:
“(1) Everyone shall have the right to peaceful and unarmed assembly at meetings and marches.
(2) The procedure for organising and holding meetings and marches shall be provided for by act of Parliament.
(3) Permission shall not be required for meetings to be held indoors.”
Article 44 § 2
“Organisations whose activities are directed against the sovereignty or the territorial integrity of the country or against the unity of the nation, or aim at stirring racial, national, ethnic or religious hatred, or at violating the rights and freedoms of others, as well as organisations creating secret or paramilitary structures, or which seek to achieve their aims through violence, shall be prohibited.”
49. The legal requirements for the organisation of meetings are set out in the Law on Meetings
“Meetings and marches may be organised by individuals, associations, political or other public organisations.”
Section 6 § 2
“(2) Every organiser [of] or participant [in a march or a meeting] shall be responsible for damage caused through his or her fault during the [event].”
Section 8 § 1
“Where a meeting is to be held outdoors the organisers shall notify in writing the [respective] People’s Council or mayor’s office not later than 48 hours before the beginning [of the meeting] and shall indicate the [name of] the organiser, the aim [of the meeting], and the place and time of the meeting.”
Section 9 § 1
“The organisers of the meeting shall take the measures necessary to ensure order during the event.”
“(1) The meeting shall be presided over by a president.
(2) The participants shall abide by the instructions of the president concerning the preservation of [public] order ...”
50. Prohibitions against meetings are also regulated
by the Law on Meetings and
“(1) Where the time or the place of the meeting, or the itinerary of the march, would create a situation endangering public order or traffic safety, the President of the Executive Committee of the People’s Council, or the mayor, respectively, shall propose their modification.
(2) The President of the Executive Committee of the People’s Council, or the mayor, shall be competent to prohibit the holding of a meeting, demonstration, or march, where reliable information exists that:
1. it aims at the violent overturning of Constitutional public order or is directed against the territorial integrity of the country;
2. it would endanger public order in the local community;
4. it would breach the rights and freedoms of others.
(3) The prohibition shall be imposed by a written reasoned act not later than 24 hours following the notification.
(4) The organiser of the meeting, demonstration or march may appeal to the Executive Committee of the People’s Council against the prohibition referred to in the preceding paragraph. The Executive Committee shall decide within 24 hours.
(5) Where the Executive Committee of the People’s Council has not decided within [that] time-limit, the march, demonstration or meeting may proceed.
(6) If the appeal is dismissed the dispute shall be referred to the respective district court which shall decide within five days. That court’s decision shall be final.”
51. The Law on Meetings and
The 1991 Constitution abolished the Executive Committees and established the post of mayor, elected by direct universal suffrage, as the “organ of the executive power in the municipality” (Article 139).
I. THE GOVERNMENT’S PRELIMINARY OBJECTIONS
52. The Government reiterated and expanded, in the light of recent developments, upon their objections made at the admissibility stage of the proceedings. They submitted that certain discrepancies in the applicants’ statements before various authorities demonstrated the abusive nature of the applications. The Government further maintained that domestic remedies had not been exhausted and that the applications were manifestly ill-founded.
Commenting the Commission’s decision on Ilinden’s locus standi, the Government, while not disputing in their memorial the Commission’s conclusion, stated that the judicial decisions of 1990 and 1991 (see above paragraphs 11-13) had the legal effect of a ban on Ilinden’s activities as an association and as a group of individuals. At the oral hearing the Government’s agent asked the Court to find, on that ground, that the applicant association had no locus standi.
The standing of Mr Stankov was not called into question. The Government considered, however, that he was not validly represented before the Court, as he had not authorised Mr Ivanov, his representative, to delegate his power to act to Mr Hincker, who – moreover – had only mentioned Ilinden in his letter to the Court announcing his participation as counsel. The Government further questioned, for the first time in their submissions on Article 41, the validity of Mr Hincker’s power to represent the applicant association, there having been no collective decision by the association’s members authorising Mr Ivanov to delegate his power to act to another person.
53. The applicants invited the Court to rule on the merits.
54. The Court recalls that, under the Convention system as in force after 1 November 1998, where the respondent Government repeat objections raised and examined at the admissibility stage, its task is to verify whether there are special circumstances warranting re-examination of questions of admissibility (Velikova v. Bulgaria, no. 41488/98, § 57, ECHR 1999-V; and Basic v. Austria, no. 29800/96, § 34, to be published in the court’s official reports).
The provision of Article 35 § 4 in fine of the Convention, which allows the Court to declare an application inadmissible at any stage of the proceedings, does not signify that a respondent State is able to raise an admissibility question at any stage of the proceedings if it could have been raised earlier (see paragraph 88 of the Explanatory Report to Protocol No. 11 to the Convention and Rule 55 of the Rules of Court) or to reiterate it where it has been rejected.
55. It is true that, unlike the Velikova and Basic cases, in the present instance the questions of admissibility were examined by the Commission, prior to the entry into force of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention, and not by the Court. The Court observes nevertheless that, pursuant to Article 5 § 3 in fine of Protocol No. 11, applications declared admissible by the Commission and transmitted to the Court without the Commission having completed their examination, shall be dealt with “as admissible cases”. The judgment of the Chamber in such cases is not final, subject to the provisions of Article 44 § 2 of the Convention.
The Court finds, therefore, that in cases falling under Article 5 § 3 in fine of Protocol No. 11 to the Convention it will only re-open questions of admissibility if there are special circumstances warranting such re-examination.
56. In the present case the Government essentially
reiterated their objections as to the admissibility of the application, which
had already been examined and rejected by the Commission in its decision of
57. The Court notes that the Commission dealt with the Government’s arguments in detail and gave full reasons for its decision. Having carefully examined the Government’s submissions, including their comments in the light of new developments, there are no new elements which would justify a re-examination of the admissibility issues in the present case.
In respect of Mr Stankov’s legal representation before it, the Court is satisfied, on the basis of the authorisation forms signed by him and Mr Ivanov (see paragraph 2 above), that he is validly represented. The Court finally does not find anything which would cast doubt on Mr Hincker’s power to represent Ilinden. The Court leaves open the question whether the Government are estopped from raising that question for the first time in their submissions on Article 41 of the Convention.
The Government’s preliminary objections are therefore dismissed.
II. SCOPE OF THE CASE
58. The Government relied on evidence which did not
concern directly the commemorative meetings of
The applicants also relied on evidence concerning events outside the scope ratione temporis or materiae of the case while disputing the relevance of some of the material submitted by the Government.
59. The Court recalls that the admissibility decision delimits the scope of the case before it. It follows that it is not its task to decide on complaints concerning events from 1990 to 1993 (which were declared inadmissible by the Commission). Nor is it called upon to express a view in this judgment on the question whether the banning of meetings in 1998, 1999 and 2000 or the Constitutional Court’s judgment of 29 February 2000 were consistent with the Convention (those issues being the subject-matter of other applications pending before the Court: nos. 44079/98, 59489/00 and 59491/00).
The scope of the present case is confined to the applicants’
complaints that the authorities prohibited their meetings on
III. ALLEGED VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 11 OF THE CONVENTION
60. The applicants alleged a violation of Article 11 of the Convention, which, in so far as relevant, provides as follows:
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others ...
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...”
A. Arguments of the parties
1. The applicants
61. The applicants submitted that the ban on meetings organised by them in commemoration of certain historical events, and the attitude of the authorities at the relevant time was aimed at suppressing the free expression of ideas at peaceful gatherings. As such it amounted to an interference with their rights under Article 11 of the Convention, seen against this background as lex specialis in respect of Article 10 of the Convention.
62. They contended that the interference had not been
“prescribed by law” as the lack of registration of their association, which had
been relied upon by the mayors, was not among the grounds justifying a
prohibition of demonstrations under section 12 of the Law on Meetings and
63. Furthermore, they rejected as groundless the Government’s assertion that the gatherings organised by them had posed a threat. They had been entirely peaceful: their purpose had been to commemorate historical events considered as an important part of the history of the Macedonian people. The gatherings, which normally lasted about three hours, had always commenced with texts being read out, and had proceeded with poems, music and songs.
64. The applicants further questioned the legitimacy of the aims pursued by the bans and their justification.
The aim of the authorities – as the applicants saw it – had been
to suppress the dissemination of the idea that a Macedonian minority existed in
65. They further maintained that the prohibitions complained of, albeit limited to certain historical sites and to particular dates, amounted in reality to a general ban on meetings of the applicant association, since not a single meeting organised by it had been authorised. Such an absolute ban was disproportionate.
Nothing in the material submitted by the Government could lead
to the conclusion that they were seeking secession from
2. The Government
66. The Government doubted the applicants’ intention to hold “peaceful” demonstrations, there allegedly being evidence that some of the organisation’s members had been armed. Reference was made in this respect to two papers they had submitted (see above paragraphs 42-46). They also referred to evidence allegedly demonstrating that since 1990 the meetings of Ilinden had always been marked by conflict and clashes, both verbal and physical, between supporters of the association and others. That was inevitable because of the provocative anti-Bulgarian statements made at those meetings and the offensive language used.
67. It was further emphasised that members of the applicant association had never been prevented from visiting the historical sites in question provided that they did not carry posters or other material containing threats against the unity of the nation, the country’s territorial integrity or the rights of others. The applicants’ freedom of assembly was thus intact.
68. If it was considered that there had been an
interference with the applicants’ rights under Article 11 of the Convention, that interference had been lawful and had been
based on unambiguous provisions of the Constitution and the Law on Meetings and
The Government disputed the applicants’ position that the reasons for the bans had been changing constantly – thus allegedly disclosing the lack of a clear legal basis. The reasons for all the bans had invariably been the unconstitutional activities and statements of the applicant association (which allegedly threatened the country’s territorial integrity and national security) and the risk of incidents endangering public order.
69. With reference to the judgments of the Supreme
Court of 1990 and 1991 (see paragraphs 12 and 13 above) and to the judgment of
the Constitutional Court of 29 February 2000 (see paragraphs 39-41 above), it
was stressed that the applicant association had been dissolved as it had been
established that its activities threatened the country’s territorial integrity
and had been unconstitutional. “Reliable information” that a gathering might be
directed against the territorial integrity of the country was a valid ground
for a ban on such a gathering under section 12 § 2 of the Law on Meetings and
70. In addition, the measures complained of pursued a number of legitimate aims: the protection of national security and territorial integrity, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, guaranteeing public order in the local community and the prevention of disorder and crime.
71. In the Government’s view, Ilinden infringed the rights and freedoms of others because it aspired to create a Macedonian nation among people belonging to the Bulgarian nation and demanded the imposition of a Macedonian identity and institutions in the region of Pirin to the exclusion of all Bulgarian institutions. The handful of supporters of those ideas – some 3,000 in a region with a population of about 360,000 – had assumed the right to speak for the people.
Most importantly, the applicant association was a separatist
group which sought the secession of the region of Pirin
72. With reference to the historical and current context of Bulgaria and the Balkans (see paragraph 47 above), the Government submitted that the applicant association’s insistence on differentiation and “collective rights”, despite the fact that every person in Bulgaria fully enjoyed all rights and freedoms, including cultural and political rights, disclosed that their genuine goal had been the imposition on the Bulgarian population of an alien national identity.
Even if a Macedonian minority existed in
73. In the context of the difficult transition from
totalitarian regimes to democracy, and due to the attendant economic and
political crisis, tensions between cohabiting communities, where they existed
in the region, were particularly explosive. The events in former
Moreover, the national authorities were better placed to assess those risks. It was conceivable that the same facts might have different implications in other States, depending on the context. The facts of the present case had to be seen, however, against the background of the difficulties in the region.
74. The time and place chosen by the applicant association for their regular meetings had been inappropriate. They had coincided with traditional, widely attended, ceremonies and fairs, commemorating events of historical importance which had involved sensitive issues. The applicant association’s provocative attitude had caused incidents in the past and had prompted very negative reaction by the population. The authorities had thus adopted the practice of not allowing Ilinden’s meetings at the same time and place as the official celebrations.
Referring to the Commission’s decisions in application no. 8191/78 (Rassemblement Jurassien & Unité jurasienne v. Switzerland, DR 17, p. 93) and application no. 8440/78 (Christians against Racism and Fascism v. the United Kingdom, DR 21 p. 138), the Government submitted that given the State’s margin of appreciation, the prohibition of demonstrations in conditions of public tension and where the authorities could reasonably expect clashes was justified for the preservation of public order.
75. In their submission, the bans complained of were proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued and did not violate Article 11 of the Convention.
B. The Court’s assessment
76. The Government expressed doubts as to the peaceful character of the applicant association’s meetings and on that basis disputed the applicability of Article 11 of the Convention.
77. The Court recalls that Article 11 of the Convention only protects the right to “peaceful assembly”. That notion – according to the Commission’s case-law – does not cover a demonstration where the organisers and participants have violent intentions (no. 13079/87, dec. 6.3.89, DR 60, p. 256; no. 8440/78, Dec. 16.7.80, DR 21, p. 138).
78. In the present case, having carefully studied all the material before it, the Court does not find that those involved in the organisation of the prohibited meetings had violent intentions (see above paragraphs 10, 12, 13, 16, 17, 20, 22, 28, 31 and 32-46). Article 11 is thus applicable.
2. Whether there has been an interference
79. The Court notes that on all occasions under examination the authorities prohibited the meetings planned by both applicants. That was, indeed, a practice that had been invariably followed ever since 1992 (see above paragraphs 17 and 74). In July 1994 the Chairman of the applicant association and another person were issued police warnings to stay away from the site of their planned commemorative meeting.
In one case, on
That approach by the authorities, allowing members of the applicant association to attend the official ceremonies held at the same places and time on the occasion of the same historical events, provided that they did not carry their posters and did not hold separate demonstrations, was reiterated in the mayor’s decision of 11 April 1997 and the Government’s submissions to the Court (see paragraphs 24 and 66 above).
80. On the basis of the above, the Court considers that there has undoubtedly been an interference with both applicants’ freedom of assembly, within the meaning of Article 11 of the Convention.
3. Whether the interference was prescribed by law
81. The Court notes that the reasons given by the authorities for the prohibition of meetings fluctuated and were not elaborate. They repeatedly mentioned the lack of registration of the applicant association, a fact which could not in itself, under the applicable law, serve as ground for a ban on a meeting. On two occasions the mayors did not provide reasons and that was only partially rectified by the district courts in their judgments on appeal (see above paragraphs 19, 21, 23, 24, 29 and 30).
The Court observes, however, that the authorities referred to an
alleged danger to public order which in accordance with domestic law was among
the grounds justifying interference with the right to peaceful assembly. The
fact that Ilinden had been refused registration was
apparently considered relevant in the assessment of the alleged danger to
public order (see above paragraphs 19 and 30 in fine). Furthermore, the
prohibitions complained of were imposed by decisions of the competent mayors
and courts in accordance with the procedure prescribed by the Law on Meetings
82. In these circumstances the Court accepts that the interference with the applicants’ freedom of assembly may be regarded as being “prescribed by law”.
In so far as the applicants challenged the soundness of the authorities’ finding that there had been a danger to public order, that issue falls to be examined in the context of the question whether or not the interference with the applicants’ freedom of assembly had a legitimate aim and was necessary in a democratic society, within the meaning of Article 11 § 2 of the Convention.
4. Legitimate aim
83. In the Government’s view the measures taken against Ilinden’s commemorative meetings pursued several legitimate aims: the protection of national security and territorial integrity, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, guaranteeing public order in the local community and the prevention of disorder and crime.
The applicants disputed that position. In their submission the disguised objective of the prohibitions complained of had been the denial of the collective rights of the Macedonian minority.
84. The Court recalls that the enumeration of
exceptions to freedom of expression and assembly, contained in Articles 10 and
11, is exhaustive. The definitions of those exceptions are necessarily
restrictive and must be interpreted narrowly (see, the Sidiropoulos
Having regard to all the material in the case the Court accepts that the interference was intended to safeguard one or more of the interests cited by the Government.
5. “Necessary in a democratic society”
(a) General principles in the Court’s case-law
85. The Court recalls that notwithstanding its autonomous role and particular sphere of application, Article 11 must also be considered in the light of Article 10. The protection of opinions and the freedom to express them is one of the objectives of the freedoms of assembly and association as enshrined in Article 11 (Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey [GC] , no. 23885/94, § 37, to be published in the Court’s official reports.
Such a link is particularly relevant where – as here – the authorities’ intervention against an assembly or an association was, at least in part, in reaction to views held or statements made by participants or members.
86. Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self-fulfilment. Subject to paragraph 2 of Article 10, it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society” (see, the Handyside v. the United Kingdom judgment of 7 December 1976, Series A no. 24, p. 23, § 49; Gerger v Turkey [GC], appl. 24919/94, § 46, 8 July 1999, unreported).
Likewise, the freedom of assembly as enshrined in Article 11 of the Convention protects a demonstration that may annoy or give offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote (the Plattform “Ärzte für das Leben” v. Austria judgment of 21 June 1988, Series A no. 139, § 32).
87. The expression “necessary in a democratic society” implies that the interference corresponds to a “pressing social need” and, in particular, that it is proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.
The Contracting States have a certain margin of appreciation in
assessing whether such a need exists, but it goes hand in hand with European
supervision, embracing both the legislation and the decisions applying it, even
those given by an independent court. The Court is therefore empowered to give
the final ruling on whether a “restriction” is reconcilable with the rights
protected by the Convention (see Gerger v
When the Court carries out its scrutiny, its task is not to substitute its own view for that of the relevant national authorities but rather to review under Article 11 the decisions they took. This does not mean that it has to confine itself to ascertaining whether the respondent State exercised its discretion reasonably, carefully and in good faith; it must look at the interference complained of in the light of the case as a whole and determine, after having established that it pursued a “legitimate aim”, whether it was proportionate to that aim and whether the reasons adduced by the national authorities to justify it are “relevant and sufficient”. In so doing, the Court has to satisfy itself that the national authorities applied standards which were in conformity with the principles embodied in Article 11 and, moreover, that they based their decisions on an acceptable assessment of the relevant facts (the United Communist Party of Turkey and Others v. Turkey judgment of 30 January 1998, Reports 1998-I, § 47).
88. There is little scope under Article 10 § 2 of the
Convention for restrictions on political speech or on debate on questions of
public interest (see, mutatis mutandis, the Wingrove
One of the principal characteristics of democracy is the possibility it offers of resolving a country’s problems through dialogue, without recourse to violence, even when those problems are irksome. Democracy thrives on freedom of expression. From that point of view, there can be no justification for hindering a group solely because it seeks to debate in public the situation of part of the State’s population and to find, according to democratic rules, solutions capable of satisfying everyone concerned (the United Communist Party of Turkey judgment, loc. cit., § 57).
89. The inhabitants of a region in a country are entitled to form associations in order to promote the region’s special characteristics. The fact that an association asserts a minority consciousness cannot in itself justify an interference with its rights under Article 11 of the Convention (see the Sidiropoulos judgment, loc. cit., § 44).
90. Admittedly, it cannot be ruled out that an organisation’s programme may conceal objectives and intentions different from the ones it proclaims. To verify that it does not, the content of the programme must be compared with the organisation’s actions and the positions it defends (the United Communist Party of Turkey judgment, loc. cit., § 58).
An essential factor to be taken into consideration is the question whether there has been a call for the use of violence, an uprising or any other form of rejection of democratic principles (Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey, loc. cit., § 40). Where there has been incitement to violence against an individual or a public official or a sector of the population, the State authorities enjoy a wider margin of appreciation when examining the need for an interference with freedom of expression (see the Incal v. Turkey judgment of 9 June 1998, Reports 1998-IV, p. 1567, § 48 and Sürek (No. 1) v. Turkey [GC], no. 26682/95, § 61, ECHR 1999-IV).
(b) Application of the general principles to the present case
91. The authorities referred to the fact that the applicant association had been refused registration because the courts found that it was anti-constitutional (see paragraphs 11-13 above).
92. The Court considers, however, that while past findings of national courts which have screened an association are undoubtedly relevant in the consideration of the dangers that its gatherings may pose, an automatic reliance on the very fact that an organisation has been considered anti-constitutional – and refused registration – cannot suffice to justify under Article 11 § 2 of the Convention a practice of systematic bans on the holding of peaceful assemblies.
The Court must rather scrutinise the particular grounds invoked to justify the interference and the significance of that interference.
(i) Grounds invoked to justify the interference
(*) Alleged possession of arms
93. The Government produced a photocopy of a typewritten flyer announcing the creation of armed groups (see paragraph 44 above). It has not been established, however, that it emanated from the applicant association. The Government have not provided any details. Nor have they explained the relevance of the newspaper article submitted by them (see paragraph 43 above) which reported that a man was suspected of certain offences, some of them apparently concerning a private business conflict.
In the Court’s opinion it is evident that if there had been preparation for armed action the Government would have been able to adduce more convincing evidence in this respect.
(*) Alleged threat to public safety
94. The Government argued that incidents had occurred in the past, when the applicant association had held meetings and that there was a likelihood of recurrence.
There is no evidence, however, of serious disturbances having been caused by the applicants. The incidents referred to were of a minor nature and did not result in prosecutions (see paragraphs 17, 18 and 46 above). The decisions of the mayors and the local courts referred only to a hypothetical danger for public order, without providing further details.
The risk of minor incidents thus did not call for a ban on Ilinden’s meetings.
(*) Alleged dangers stemming from Ilinden’s goals and declarations
95. The Government stressed that the applicant
The applicants stated that the sole purpose of their meetings had been to commemorate historical events and that they did not pursue separatist goals.
96. On the basis of all the evidence, the Court finds
that at the relevant time it was not unreasonable for the authorities to
suspect that certain leaders of the applicant association – or small groups
which had developed from it – harboured separatist
views and had a political agenda that included the notion of autonomy for the
region of Pirin Macedonia or even secession from
Bulgaria. That is borne out by various statements made by those leaders (see
paragraphs 16, 33, 34 and 35). The Court also takes into account the findings
of the Supreme Court from 1990 and 1991 and of the
It follows that the authorities could anticipate that separatist slogans would be broadcast by some participants during the commemorative ceremonies.
97. The Court reiterates, however, that the fact that a group of persons calls for autonomy or even requests secession of part of the country’s territory – thus demanding fundamental constitutional and territorial changes – cannot automatically justify a prohibition of its assemblies. Demanding territorial changes in speeches and demonstrations does not automatically amount to a threat to the country’s territorial integrity and national security.
Freedom of assembly and the right to express one’s views through it are among the paramount values in a democratic society. The essence of democracy is its capacity to resolve problems through open debate. Sweeping measures of a preventive nature to suppress freedom of assembly and expression other than in cases of incitement to violence or rejection of democratic principles – however shocking and unacceptable certain views or words used may appear to the authorities, and however illegitimate the demands made may be – do a disservice to democracy and often even endanger it.
In a democratic society based on the rule of law political ideas which challenge the existing order and whose realisation is advocated by peaceful means must be afforded a proper opportunity of expression through the exercise of the right of assembly as well as by other lawful means.
98. The Court finds, therefore, that the probability that separatist declarations would be made at meetings organised by Ilinden could not justify a ban on such meetings.
Alleged propagation of violence and rejection of democratic principles
99. The Government referred to statements which could be interpreted as inviting the Bulgarians to leave the Pirin region to the Macedonians (see above paragraphs 16, 17 and 33) and suggested that even if the separatist aims of Ilinden had not thus far been pursued by them in an openly violent manner, there had nevertheless been some indications that that would happen.
The applicants rejected these allegations as groundless and stressed the peaceful character of their meetings.
100. There is no doubt that seeking the expulsion of others from a given territory on the basis of ethnic origin is a complete negation of democracy.
It is noteworthy, however, that the Supreme Court, when refusing to allow the registration of the applicant association in 1990 and 1991, and the Constitutional Court in its judgment of 29 February 2000 (see above paragraphs 12, 13 and 39-41) did not state that Ilinden’s goals and activities involved incitement to violence or rejection of democratic rule. Furthermore, no relevant criminal proceedings against members of Ilinden or participants in meetings have ever been brought (see above paragraph 46).
101. Most of Ilinden’s declarations and statements emphasised their reliance on public debate and political pressure for the achievement of their goals and expressly rejected violence (see paragraphs 10, 16, 37 and 38). Those statements which could be interpreted as calling for violence or rejection of democracy appear isolated against the background of all material in the case. Moreover, since various persons and groups associated with Ilinden had divergent views, not all the material cited necessarily reflected ideas and goals that dominated the applicant association’s agenda.
102. In its judgment in the case of Incal v. Turkey the Court found that the mere fact that a message read out at a commemorative ceremony to a group of people – which already considerably restricted its potential impact on national security, public order or territorial integrity – contained words such as “resistance”, “struggle” and “liberation”, did not necessarily mean that it constituted an incitement to violence, armed resistance or an uprising (loc. cit., § 50).
In the present case the Court takes into account the fact that some of Ilinden’s declarations apparently included an element of exaggeration as they sought to attract attention.
103. In the Court’s opinion, there is no indication that the applicant association’s meetings were likely to become a platform for the propagation of violence and rejection of democracy with a potential damaging impact that warranted their prohibition. Any isolated incident could adequately be dealt with through the prosecution of those responsible.
“Conversion” of the Bulgarian population into a Macedonian population
104. The Government submitted that the applicant
association had sought the “conversion of the population in the region into a
Macedonian population” in order to achieve its final goal – secession from
The applicants maintained that Ilinden
was an association of the Macedonians in
105. The Court does not accept the argument that it was necessary to limit the applicants’ right to demonstrate in order to protect those whom they were allegedly trying to “convert”. It has not been shown that unlawful means of “conversion”, infringing the rights of others, have been or were likely to be employed by the applicants.
Statements perceived as offensive by the public opinion
106. It appears that Ilinden’s meetings generated a degree of tension given the special sensitivity of public opinion to their ideas which were perceived as an offensive appropriation of national symbols and sacred values (see paragraphs 13, 17, 18 in fine, 24 and 47 above).
In particular, the applicants sought to commemorate historical events, to which they attached a different significance to that which was generally accepted in the country. They considered as Macedonian martyrs historical personalities who were commonly and officially celebrated in the country as Bulgarian national heroes and therefore sought to organise their meetings at the same times and places as the traditional official ceremonies.
107. However, if every probability of tension and heated exchange between opposing groups during a demonstration were to warrant its prohibition, society would be faced with being deprived of the opportunity of hearing differing views on any question which offends the sensitivity of the majority opinion.
The fact that what was at issue touched on national symbols and national identity cannot be seen in itself – contrary to the Government’s view – as calling for a wider margin of appreciation to be left to the authorities. The national authorities must display particular vigilance to ensure that national public opinion is not protected at the expense of the assertion of minority views no matter how unpopular they may be.
(ii) The significance of the interference
108. The Government suggested that a fair balance was achieved through the relative flexibility shown – when supporters of Ilinden were allowed to approach the historical sites provided that they did not brandish banners or make speeches –, and that the applicants should have chosen other sites for their meetings.
109. The Court considers that depriving the applicants of the right to express their ideas through speeches or slogans at meetings cannot reasonably be characterised as evidence of flexibility. Indeed, the authorities had adopted the practice of imposing sweeping bans on Ilinden’s meetings (see above paragraphs 17 and 74).
Furthermore, it was apparent that the time and the place of the ceremonies were crucial to the applicants, as well as for those attending the official ceremony. Despite the margin of appreciation enjoyed by the Government in such matters the Court is not convinced that it was not possible to ensure that both celebrations proceeded peacefully either at the same time or one shortly after the other.
(iii) The Court’s conclusion
110. As the Government have pointed out, the applicant association had only about 3,000 supporters, not all of whom were active.
The authorities nonetheless resorted to measures aimed at preventing the dissemination of the applicants’ views at the demonstrations they wished to hold.
111. That approach, in the circumstances where there was no real foreseeable risk of violent action or of incitement to violence or any other form of rejection of democratic principles was in the Court’s view not justified under paragraph 2 of Article 11 of the Convention.
112. In sum, the Court finds that the authorities overstepped their margin of appreciation and that the measures banning the applicants from holding commemorative meetings were not necessary in a democratic society, within the meaning of Article 11 of the Convention.
There was therefore a violation of that provision.
IV. APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONVENTION
113. Article 41 of the Convention provides:
“If the Court finds that there has been a violation of the Convention or the Protocols thereto, and if the internal law of the High Contracting Party concerned allows only partial reparation to be made, the Court shall, if necessary, afford just satisfaction to the injured party.”
A. The applicants’ claims
114. Following the Commission’s decision of
By letter of
In respect of non-pecuniary damage, the applicants claimed compensation for, inter alia, suffering as a result of the actions of the authorities who allegedly sought to wipe out Ilinden.
115. In their memorial before the Court, which was
prepared without legal advice, the applicants did not set out claims for just
satisfaction. They did so at the hearing on
116. Before the Court the applicants did not claim pecuniary or non-pecuniary damages. They requested the reimbursement of their costs, claiming 10,000 German marks (DEM) in respect of the domestic proceedings (trips to the local courts, secretarial and legal work), DEM 15,000 in respect of the Strasbourg proceedings (including 8,127 French francs (FRF) for Mr Ivanov’s travel and subsistence expenses for the hearing in Strasbourg, FRF 5,000 in translation expenses, and FRF 2,000 in other expenses), as well as an additional FRF 35,000 in legal fees for their counsel.
The applicants submitted a copy of their agreement with Mr Hincker on legal fees and copies of Mr Ivanov’s hotel and airline-ticket invoices. They stated that they had been unable to present proof of the remaining costs as they had not been legally represented at the domestic level or before the Commission and had paid all the expenses with the association’s resources.
B. The Government’s submissions
117. In respect of the applicants’ claims made in
August 1998, on
The Government’s reply to the applicants’ claims made in October
2000 was submitted at the hearing and in writing on
118. The claim in respect of costs in the domestic proceedings – the Government continued – was out of proportion and abusive. The applicants had only submitted, in each case, one-page standard requests and appeals, evidently prepared without legal advice. No court fees had been due and no other expenses incurred.
The DEM 15,000 claimed in respect of the
In the Government’s view, an award of FRF 35,000 in legal fees
would be clearly excessive as it did not correspond to the actual legal work
done by the applicants’ counsel and also because the economic conditions in the
respondent State should be taken into account. The lawyer’s claim was the
equivalent of 146 minimum monthly wages in
The Government concluded that an award of costs covering Mr Ivanov’s travel and subsistence expenses for the hearing before the Court (FRF 8,127) plus FRF 5,000 in legal fees for Mr Hincker would be acceptable, if the Court decided to award just satisfaction.
C. The Court’s assessment
119. Rule 60 § 1 of the Rules of Court provides, in so far as relevant:
“any claim which the ... applicant may wish to make for just satisfaction under Article 41 of the Convention shall, unless the President of the Chamber directs otherwise, be set out in the written observations on the merits or, if no such written observations are filed, in a special document filed no later than two months after the decision declaring the application admissible.”
120. The Court notes that on
It is true that at the hearing the applicants’ lawyer only claimed costs. However, the Court cannot interpret his submissions as withdrawing the claims filed by the applicants directly, without the involvement of Mr Hincker, in the absence of an express statement in that sense.
As regards the Government’s objection under Rule 60 § 1 of the Rules of Court, the Court observes that the applicants’ memorial was prepared without legal advice and that the claims which were submitted for the first time at the hearing concerned solely their costs. It is clear that certain costs and expenses, and in particular those related to the hearing, could not be specified in advance.
Finally, the Government were given every opportunity to comment in detail on all the applicants’ claims and have done so, in December 1998 and December 2000.
In these circumstances, the Court considers that there is a validly submitted claim for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and costs, which should be examined.
121. The Court accepts that the applicants have suffered non-pecuniary damage as a consequence of the violation of their right to freedom of assembly. Deciding on an equitable basis, the Court awards under this head to the applicant association and to Mr Stankov the global sum of FRF 40,000, to be paid jointly to Mr Stankov and to the representative of Ilinden, Mr Ivanov.
The claim in respect of pecuniary damages is unsubstantiated and should be dismissed.
122. As regards costs in the domestic proceedings, the Court agrees with the Government that the applicants were not legally represented at that level and have not mentioned any legal fees paid.
The applicants must have incurred certain expenses, however, in
translating correspondence and submissions for the purposes of the
123. In addition, the amounts claimed in respect of Mr Ivanov’s appearance before the Court (FRF 8,127) are to be awarded in full.
As regards counsel’s fees, the Court, noting that Mr Hincker was only involved in the last stage of the proceedings and ruling on an equitable basis, awards FRF 25,000.
124. According to the information available to the
Court, the statutory rate of interest applicable in
FOR THESE REASONS, THE COURT
1. Dismisses unanimously the Government’s preliminary objections;
2. Holds by six votes to one that there has been a violation of Article 11 of the Convention;
3. Holds by six votes to one, that the respondent State is to pay jointly to Mr Stankov and Mr Ivanov, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final according to Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, 40,000 (forty thousand) French francs for non-pecuniary damage;
4. Holds unanimously, that the respondent State is to pay jointly to Mr Stankov and Mr Ivanov, within three months from the date on which the judgment becomes final according to Article 44 § 2 of the Convention, 36,127 (thirty six thousand one hundred twenty seven) French francs for costs and expenses, together with any value-added tax that may be chargeable;
5. Holds unanimously, that simple interest at an annual rate of 4.26% shall be payable from the expiry of the above-mentioned three months until settlement;
6. Dismisses unanimously the remainder of the applicants’ claims for just satisfaction.
Done in English, and delivered in
Michael O’Boyle Elisabeth Palm
In accordance with Article 45 § 2 of the Convention and Rule 74 § 2 of the Rules of Court, the dissenting opinion of Mrs Botoucharova is annexed to this judgment.
DISSENTING OPINION OF JUDGE BOTOUCHAROVA
I voted against the finding of a violation of Article 11 of the Convention in the present case.
My analysis starts from the same general principles as that of the majority: paragraphs 85-90 of the judgment, which set out the essence of the Court’s case-law on freedom of assembly and expression and, in particular, the criteria on the basis of which an interference with those freedoms in cases such as the present one may be considered justified. I accept fully the summary of those criteria.
In my opinion, however, their application to the facts of the case before us – a border-line case – may lead to a different conclusion if appropriate weight is given to the fact that the applicants’ demonstrations posed risks for public order in the local community. The authorities, when restricting the applicants’ right to hold commemorative meetings, repeatedly referred to the existing danger of clashes between the supporters of Ilinden and those participating in the official ceremonies which were held at the same place and time. The fears were based on past experience: there had been a number of previous incidents at events organised by Ilinden, and their attitude was characterised as “provocative” (see paragraph 17 of the judgment). That last element was of crucial importance as it meant that the authorities were convinced that Ilinden supporters might seek to provoke disorder and clashes. What is at issue in this case, however, is the freedom of peaceful assembly.
The protection of the rights of others, public safety and the prevention of disorder are legitimate aims that may justify, under Article 11 § 2 of the Convention, an interference with freedom of peaceful assembly provided that such interference is proportionate to the aims pursued.
The Bulgarian authorities were apparently conscious of the requirement not to restrict Ilinden’s freedoms beyond what was necessary. The prohibitions complained of only concerned specific dates and places. On some of the dates when demonstrations were planned, the authorities did not prevent Ilinden’s supporters from reaching the historical sites, but required them to abandon provocative slogans.
The Court has established in its case-law that “by reason of their direct and continuous contact with the vital forces of their countries, state authorities are in principle in a better position than the international judge to give an opinion on the exact content of the ... [necessity of an interference] ...The Court, which ... is responsible for ensuring observance of those states’ engagements, is empowered to give the final ruling on whether [an interference was justified] ... Consequently, Article 10 § 2 [as well as Article 11 § 2] leave to the Contracting States a margin of appreciation... The domestic margin of appreciation ... goes hand in hand with a European supervision” (the Handyside v. the United Kingdom judgment of 7 December 1976, Series A no. 24, pp. 22-23).
Taking into account the domestic margin of appreciation, the Convention organs found in many cases that restrictions on demonstrations were justified on public-order grounds. To cite some examples, the following prohibitions on assemblies were considered in conformity with Article 11 § 2: a two-month ban on public processions other than customary ones in London (no. 8440/78, Dec. 16.7.80, DR 21 p. 138); a general ban on demonstrations on issues related to Northern Ireland in Trafalgar Square in London (no. 25522/94, Dec. 6.4.95, DR 81-A, p. 146); a four-day ban on assemblies within a radius of four miles from the Stonehenge Monument in view of past incidents and disorder caused by Druid followers (no. 31416/96, Dec. 19.10.98 (unreported).
In my opinion, the Bulgarian authorities in the particular circumstances of the present case did not overstep their margin of appreciation and restricted the applicants’ freedom of peaceful assembly to the extent strictly necessary for the protection of the rights of others, public safety and the prevention of disorder.
As I did not find a violation of Article 11 of the Convention, I also voted against the award on non-pecuniary damages to the applicants.