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ACTIVISTS SAY THEIR PROTESTS FACED UNCONSTITUTIONAL LIMITATIONS

Struggle for the street

TWO WEEKS ago, Slovak police prevented activists from the non-governmental organisation Amnesty International from protesting in front of the Embassy of Belarus in Bratislava.
The activists wanted to protest the trial of a Belarusian scientist who is doing research on the effects of the explosion of the nuclear power station in Chernobyl in Ukraine in late 1980.

TWO WEEKS ago, Slovak police prevented activists from the non-governmental organisation Amnesty International from protesting in front of the Embassy of Belarus in Bratislava.

The activists wanted to protest the trial of a Belarusian scientist who is doing research on the effects of the explosion of the nuclear power station in Chernobyl in Ukraine in late 1980.

A small number of activists with banners on their way to a gathering in front of the embassy building were not allowed to enter the street where the embassy is located, even though the demonstration was properly reported to the authorities Elena Vaclavová, Amnesty International Slovakia campaign coordinator, told The Slovak Spectator.

"The rally had been properly reported to the Bratislava Old Town council well in advance. There was no problem from that side. The complication emerged only when we were approaching the embassy and the police stopped us because, in their words, they were concerned about any potential disruption caused to the embassy. We think the concerns were unfounded, as our organisation has a record of peaceful demonstrations for many years," Vaclavová said.

However, Ján Packa, head of the office for the protection of constitutional officials and diplomatic missions, said that the protesters would have violated the international law were they to have entered the embassy's street.

"They were allowed to deliver a petition," Packa told the daily SME.

According to Packa, the demonstrators could not enter the street because the Bulgarian Embassy is also located there.

"Security could have been threatened. No one from Amnesty International can guarantee me that it is to the contrary," he added.

Amnesty International has turned to the Interior Ministry and expects an explanation from the officials. If the official stand does not satisfy the organisation, it will then go to the Constitutional Court.

Not that long ago, the Constitutional Court decided on a similar case in which it took the side of cyclists who blocked traffic during a rally. The court claimed that the right of assembly must be guaranteed.

Tomáš Kamenec, the lawyer who represented the cyclists, argued that the country's constitution is above international law.

In the case of the Belarusian embassy, he said, police did not have the right to close the whole street because it is a public place.

"They cannot prevent citizens from gathering in front of an embassy and expressing their political views if they are not threatening the security or the dignity of the diplomatic mission," he told SME.

However, Boris Ažaltovič, spokesman with the Interior Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator that, "police did not stop the demonstrators".

"The office for the protection of constitutional officials and diplomatic missions just closed the street where, apart from the Belarus Embassy, there is also the Bulgarian Embassy. The [protection] office, however, enabled the demonstrators to hand in their petition," said Ažaltovič.

Vaclavová said that Amnesty International would not give up and plans to demonstrate in front of the embassy again.

In a similar case, protesters who participated in the preparation of a rally ahead of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at the end of May this year said that the police threatened them.

According to the Slovak daily Národná Obroda, they have already sent a complaint to the Interior Ministry's control department regarding the case.

One of the organisers of the rally, Eduard Banga, said the police threatened that, if he did not cooperate, they would not help him if skinheads beat him some time in the future.

"If anything happens during that demonstration, I will cut your head off," one of four present police investigators allegedly told Banga.

The demonstrators, however, decided not to file a criminal complaint against the investigators.

"The officers did not do this on their own; someone higher was pressing them [to threaten the organisers]. Punishing the four would not solve anything," another organiser of the rally, Peter Baďura, told Národná Obroda.

Police spokeswoman Alena Toševová suggested that the organisers' accusations were ungrounded.

She said that, "because they did not manage to make themselves visible during the Parliamentary Assembly, they are using the dry [news] season to get over the frustration of their failure."

With press reports

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