PACE ensures police action, where necessary, remains proportionate

PACE deplored recent cases of excessive use of force to disperse demonstrators and ensured that police action, where necessary, remains proportionate

PACE deplored recent cases of excessive use of force to disperse demonstrators and ensured that police action, where necessary, remains proportionate

STRASBOURG – The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has deplored recent cases of excessive use of force to disperse demonstrators and ensured that police action, where necessary, remains proportionate.

After an urgent debate on “Popular protest and challenges to freedom of assembly, media and speech”, based on a report by Arcadio Diaz Tejera (Spain, SOC), PACE also called on governments to draw up clear instructions on the use of tear gas (pepper spray) and to ban its use in confined spaces.

"States should investigate the use of excessive or disproportionate force by law enforcement and impose sanctions on those responsible, and refrain from imposing sanctions on media outlets covering popular protests, the parliamentarians said. Freedom of assembly and demonstration should be guaranteed in line with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights," PACE stated.

Referring to the recent protests in Turkey, the Assembly deplored the deaths of four people, including a police officer, and the injuries to thousands of people. It said: “In dozens of Turkish towns, hundreds of thousands of people expressed their disagreement with the attitude of public authorities and took part in demonstrations.” It also cited the examples of the demonstrations against same-sex marriage in Paris and the May riots which took place in the suburbs of Stockholm following the killing of an immigrant by police.

The parliamentarians invited the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to consider drawing up guidelines in respect of human rights in the policing of demonstrations.

-Examples from Europe

The Assembly exemplified the peaceful demonstrations which developed into violent clashes with the police in the last few months in Europe and they include:

- Several demonstrations against same-sex marriage staged in Paris between 24 March and 27 May 2013 (“Manif pour tous”), involving more than 2 million people, triggering the intervention of law enforcement forces including the use of tear gas on peaceful demonstrators. Four persons were injured and several hundred were arrested;

- Riots which took place in the suburbs of Stockholm from 20 to 24 May 2013 where people demonstrated against the killing of an immigrant by the police and against immigration and integration policies in general. No injuries were reported and the police arrested 29 people;

- Recently, on 31 May 2013, a peaceful demonstration organized by opponents to an urban renovation project in Istanbul led to a heavy-handed police intervention and triggered an unprecedented popular protest movement in Turkey. In dozens of Turkish towns, hundreds of thousands of people expressed their disagreement with the attitude of public authorities and took part in demonstrations. In many places, these demonstrations resulted in violent clashes with the security forces, involving the systematic use of tear gas (pepper spray), water cannons and, in some cases, the firing of rubber bullets. The Parliamentary Assembly deplores the death of four people, including a police officer, and the injuries to almost 4,000 people.

- Recommendations

The Assembly urges the Council of Europe member States, where appropriate, to take the necessary measures to bring their legislation into line with Council of Europe standards and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, including as regards freedom of expression, of the media and of assembly, and invites them to:

- Guarantee freedom of assembly and demonstration in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and ensure that this freedom can be exercised in practice;

- Duly investigate the use of excessive or disproportionate force by members of the law enforcement forces and impose sanctions on those responsible;

- Reinforce human rights training for members of the security forces, and also for judges and prosecutors, in partnership with the Council of Europe;

- Draw up clear instructions concerning the use of tear gas (pepper spray) and prohibit its use in confined spaces;

- Ensure media freedom, put an end to harassment and arrests of journalists and the searches of media premises and refrain from imposing sanctions on media outlets covering popular protests, in line also with Resolution 1920 (2013) on the state of media freedom in Europe;

- Reform the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as anti-terrorism legislation and the Administrative Code, whenever the relevant legislation is not in line with Council of Europe standards and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights;

- Examine means of consulting the population or involving it in the management of public affairs, both at local and national levels, drawing on relevant European standards and good practices, in line also with Resolution 1746 (2010) on democracy in Europe: crisis and perspectives;

- Refrain from putting unnecessary administrative and organizational hurdles in the way of the work of civil society organizations by subjecting them to controls, fines and penalties. Such excessive practices intensify popular discontent and may lead to further increased popular protest activity.

PACE also invites the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to consider drawing up guidelines in respect of human rights in the policing of demonstrations.

-Environmental movement turned into violence

A member of parliament of Justice & Development (AK) Party Saban Disli said in the parliamentary assembly that the demonstrations in Turkey began as environmental movement but they turned into violent acts by extreme groups.

Reminding that there is no democratic government which allows illegitimate demonstrations, Disli said, security forces had to use necessary preventive measures and added, meanwhile actions were taken according to law, European and international norms.

The decisions of PACE are not legally binding.

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