Local rights group concerned over restrictions on assembly rights

Peaceful Assembly and Expression

Manuel Lambert, legal adviser with the Ligue des droits de l’Homme, has informed the CIVICUS Monitor that the Belgian authorities have recently started to fine and sanction people who take part in unauthorised gatherings. Lambert finds this a worrying development as it may have a chilling effect on citizens exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

Lambert is also concerned over the Belgian police's response to citizens and journalists filming police officers acting in their official capacity, as detailed in the organisation's 2017 annual report on police action in the country. According to Ligue des droits de l’Homme, filming police officers in action to inform the public on how they behave and carry out their duties represents citizens and media exercising their rights to free press and expression. Such a supportive position on the above issue is not partisan towards any political party in Belgium, but is also supported by the European Court of Human Rights and other international human rights protection bodies.

In response to a parliamentarian at a meeting in early January 2018, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens  expressed concern over the potential impact a law on fake news would have on freedom of expression. According to the Brussels Times, Greens questioned the need for such a law as "...the dissemination of fake news can already be covered by certain penal provisions, such as slander and libel”. Greens believes the responsibility to check the veracity of a statement or news items rests on the persons managing the communication.