Litigation

Bumbeș v. Romania

Court
European Court of Human Rights
Country
Romania

Romanian authorities arrested and fined activist Mihail-Liviu Bumbeș for engaging in a minimally disruptive protest against a controversial draft law without providing advance notice to authorities. 

Facts

Roșia Montană Project is a gold and silver mining project in Romania. If approved, it would become Europe's largest open-pit gold mine. The project has faced considerable opposition, including from Romania’s main churches, environmental groups, local and scientific associations, and neighboring countries. OSI-Romania has supported groups that opposed the mine and brought litigation in its own name to gain access to information about the mining project.

On 27 August 2013, the Government submitted a draft law on mining to Parliament without any prior public consultation that would have advanced the project if confirmed.

The next day, on 28 August 2013, Bumbeș – together with three others – chained himself to a gate of a government building with a banner stating “Save Roșia Montană.” The event was filmed by colleagues of the applicant who disseminated the video via social media. The building has several gates, and nobody tried to use the blocked gate during the protest.

After a short time, the police forcibly unchained the protesters, took them to a police station, and fined them each 500 lei (about 120 euros).

A provision of Romania’s Law on Public Gatherings makes it an administrative offence, punishable by a fine, for the conveners of a gathering to fail to apply for authorization at least 3 days in advance. The law does not provide an exception for spontaneous protests that respond to current events.

Bumbeș challenged the fine on the ground that the right to freedom of expression and assembly includes the right to protest a current event without giving prior notification, so long as the protest does not disrupt public order or other legitimate interests.

On 10 June 2015, the Bucharest County Court delivered a final judgment upholding the fine on the ground that the applicant had not applied for an authorization of the protest.

Justice Initiative Involvement

The Open Society Justice Initiative worked closely with our partner Greenpeace Romania to draft a third-party intervention in Bumbeș’s pending case. 

Legal Arguments

Bumbeș’s petition to the European Court of Human Rights alleges violations of his rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly under articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 A central question of the case is whether the Court should treat a performative, spontaneous, small, and minimally obstructive protest as an expression of political opinion under article 10 or as an assembly under article 11.  

If the Court treats the protest as an expression of political opinion, then the case raises the question of whether the circumstances justified imposing notification requirements – which the Court has held constitute a prior restraint that could undermine freedom of expression – as well as fining Bumbeș for non-compliance with those requirements.

If the Court treats the protest as an assembly, then the case raises questions as to whether mere failure to give notice for an assembly should be considered as a lawful ground for sanction in the absence of aggravating elements, as was the case with Bumbeș’s protest.

July, 2019

Third Party Intervention filed with the European Court of Human Rights by Greenpeace Romania and the Open Society Justice Initiative.

July 22, 2019
Bumbeș v. Romania: Written Comments of the Open Society Justice Initiative and Greenpeace Romania Download the 10-page document. Download

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