Litigation

Bumbeș v. Romania

Court
European Court of Human Rights
Country
Romania
Status
Closed
Case Manager

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

The Roșia Montană Project is a gold and silver mining project in Romania, that if approved, 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.

On August 27, 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, activist Mihail-Liviu 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 Bumbeș 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 offense punishable by a fine for conveners of a gathering to fail to apply for authorization at least three 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 authorities prior notification, so long as the protest does not disrupt public order or other legitimate interests.

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

Open Society Foundations Involvement

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

OSI-Romania, a part of the Open Society Foundations, has supported groups that opposed the mine and brought litigation in its own name to gain access to information about the mining project.

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.

May 03, 2022

The Court's decision clarified and expanded its interpretation of Article 10, accepting that non-violent direct action in small groups equals freedom of expression, not assembly, and prior notice is not necessary. The ruling noted that prior notice is necessary only for assemblies and for the purpose of allowing authorities to take the necessary measures to not disrupt the public order. It also stated that for direct action in small groups on matters of public interest, sanctions are permissible only with solid justification, and a prior notice requirement does not constitute justification.

May 03, 2022

The Court issues a ruling holding that there has been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention interpreted in the light of Article 11.


October 19, 2019

The European Court of Human Rights communicates the applicant’s comments on the amicus brief to the Open Society Justice Initiative.

July, 2019

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

July 18, 2019

The Justice Initiative and Greenpeace Romania submit a joint amicus brief to the European Court of Human Rights.

February 28, 2019

The European Court of Human Rights communicates the case to the government of Romania. 

June 10, 2015

The Bucharest County Court delivers its final judgment against Bumbeș. 

March 25, 2015

The complainant files an application with the European Court of Human Rights.

August 28, 2013

Bumbeș, together with three others, chains himself to one gate of a government building with a banner stating “Save Roșia Montană.” After a short time, the police forcibly unchain the protesters, take them to a police station, and fine them each 500 lei (about 120 euros). 

August 27, 2013

The Romanian government submits a draft law on mining to Parliament without prior public consultation, which, if confirmed, would have advanced a controversial project to create Europe’s largest open-pit goldmine. 

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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