Peaceful assembly

The right to peacefully assemble ensures that citizens have the freedom to gather and collectively express themselves, encourage each other, and pursue and defend their ideas. The right to peacefully assemble is most often mentioned in the context of the right to protest, but it can also apply to festive events, commemorations, and celebrations.
it is protected by domestic and international law in a number of regulations*.
Peaceful assembly plays a key role in democratic society, since it is a tool that citizens may use to assert their fundamental rights. It provides people the opportunity to express their opinions on subjects that are important to them and to hold government entities accountable for their actions. Bulgarian law stipulates that the right to peacefully assemble may be exercised by notifying the authorities, rather than requesting their permission. However, the law has not fully adopted the international standards in many regards, such as in the case of spontaneous gatherings.
Like the rights to freedom of expression and association, the right to assemble is subject to certain restrictions. The main one is that only the peaceful assembly of citizens enjoys the protection of international and national law. The right to peacefully assemble can be restricted in a variety of ways—through general prohibitions, prohibitions on assembling in a specific place or at a specific time, blocking the routes of processions, or imposing punishments for illegal gatherings. Such restrictive measures can be imposed in the interest of national and public security, to prevent disorder or crime, to protect wellbeing and moral, or to defend the rights and freedoms of others. For example, the request to ban the annual procession known as the "Lukowmarch" that is related to the Nazi views preached by its organizers and the promotion of violence and hate speech based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, anti-Semitic propaganda and others.
All restrictive measures however must be imposed in response to pressing public need and must be proportional to the severity of the situation.
In some cases, legislative measures overreach when restricting the right to peacefully assemble, imposing rules that exceed what is legally permitted by international legal stipulations. Measures implemented in the context of the fight against terrorism have a particularly negative effect on the freedom of peaceful assembly.
Moreover, in certain instances, states impose—either through legislative or practical measures—general prohibitions on gatherings for a given periods of time or in specific places. In Bulgaria, the law forbids organizing public gatherings within the security zone around the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, and the buildings of the presidency.
Prohibiting peacefully assembly is a last resort. A general prohibition on peaceful gatherings may be justified only if there is real danger of them leading to disorder that cannot be subdued with other, less strict measures. To that end, the entity controlling the right to peacefully assemble must take into account the effect of prohibiting demonstrations that in and of themselves do not present a danger to public order. The prohibition is justified only if the safety considerations necessitating the ban would clearly outweigh the damage such a demonstration would cause; also, if there are no means of avoiding the undesirable side effects a prohibition would provoke.
The state has a responsibility to actively protect people who participate in peaceful assemblies, which means it is obligated to protect participants from all individuals or groups (including both the instigators and the counterdemonstrators) who try to obstruct them in any way. In Bulgaria, the state does not always fulfill this responsibility, especially when it comes to vulnerable groups such as LGBTQ and certain ethnic or religious groups. In 2022, the state repeatedly failed to fulfill this obligation in relation to the protesters against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
At the same time, the authorities must maintain order during mass events and individually remove provocateurs and those that violate said public order—a standard that is rarely respected. In a number of instances, racist or homophobic slogans were allowed to be chanted freely at demonstrations in Bulgaria.
BHC has defended the right to peacefully assemble for participants in antigovernment protests, for representatives of ethnic and religious minorities, for the LGBTQ community, and at professional associations. We do so through public advocacy on a national level and through legal action before the European Court of Human Rights and the International Labor Organization.
BHC advocates for:
  • Respect of citizens’ right to peacefully assemble, according to the standards set by international law;
  • Allowing spontaneous protests in certain instances, without requiring that municipal authorities be notified beforehand;
  • Imposing bans on peaceful gatherings only as a last resort and on a nondiscriminatory basis;
  • Effective protection of the participants of peaceful gatherings who belong to groups that are targets of hate speech and physical attacks by extremist groups.