Would-Be Protesters Lose Challenge of Arrests in Romania

Romania celebrates Unification Day on Dec. 1, to mark the 1918 event pictured here where 1,228 elected representatives of Romanians in Transylvania, Banat, Crișana and Maramureș convened in the city of Alba Iulia and decreed that Transylvania and other regions belonged to Romania. (Wikipedia image via Courthouse News)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top human rights court found Thursday that Romania did not discriminate in arresting two men before they could hold an illegal demonstration.

Discrimination did not occur, according to the 33-page opinion released only in French, because Lóránt Csiszer and Barna Csibi deliberately refused to comply with national rules on public gatherings.

Both members of the Székely ethnic group, a Hungarian-speaking minority population in Romania, Csiszer and Csibi were arrested, along with six others, after leaving a restaurant near the main square of Cluj, a town in northwestern Romania, on Dec. 1, 2010, at 4:30 p.m.

The first of December, or Unification Day, is a major holiday in Romania, celebrating the day in 1918 when ethnic Romanians living under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania, where Cluj is located, were part of Romania. 

On that same day, groups of Hungarian soldiers living in those areas organized themselves as the “Székely battalion” to fight against the Romanian military. They were unsuccessful.

Csibi wanted to hold the event to commemorate “the founding and activity of the Székely battalion,” according to Tuesday’s ruling. With two months to go, he had applied to Cluj’s mayor for permission to hold a commemorative gathering on Unification Day in the square from 5-6 p.m. Other events were already scheduled, however, and the request was denied.

When he and Csiszer were arrested, police alleged that they were on their way to hold the ceremony illegally.

 Original photo of the 1918 Union of Transylvania and Romania. (Wikipedia image via Courthouse News)

Romanian law forbids public gatherings aimed at propagating fascists, and the courts there found that Csiszer and Csisi’s group advocated the fascist ideology of Albert Wass, a Hungarian leader and writer who was convicted of war crimes for murdering Romanian peasants and Jews during the Second World War.

On the day of their arrest in 2010, members of the group were found with flags and clothing with the inscription “Wass Albert Szovetseg” or Albert Wass Society.

Csiszer was fined 10,000 Romanian lei ($2,400) and Csibi 5,000 Romanian lei ($1,200). They appealed, unsuccessfully, to the highest national courts in Romania, and then to the court in Strasbourg, France, whose 47 member states are all contracting parties to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Both men argued that they intended for their event to be peaceful, and that the Romanian courts conflated the commemoration with the Albert Wass Society, which was unrelated. They also argued that planning a demonstration is not illegal and the arrest before any event could take place stopped them from participating in any illegal public gathering. 

But the seven-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights turned them down.

“The applicants’ deliberate refusal to comply with the rules applicable in domestic law constituted conduct which made the planned meeting contrary to national law,” the ruling states.

Csiszer and Csibi argued that their right to assembly and freedom of expression had been violated. They also claimed discrimination on the basis of ethnicity. 

For the court, however, it was not the men’s ethnic background but concern for public order that drove Cluj’s refusal to sanction the gathering.

Considered a court of last resort, the European Convention on Human Rights requires that applicants first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint.

Since the court found no violations, neither man received compensation. 

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