Preserve democracy in the time of coronavirus

In the fight for health, we must not lose democracy. The various restrictions on civil rights and freedoms that we have witnessed in recent days after the introduction of measures to curb the spread of coronavirus require decisive action to safeguard democratic institutions and processes.

Gong warned on particularly dangerous Government’s attempt to suspend parliament’s work, which would allow the prime minister to pass laws by decrees – hence put Croatia side by side with Orbán’s Hungary. We are also concerned about the announcement of amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications, which would enable monitoring locations of citizens’ mobile phones.

Therefore, Gong calls on the Croatian Government, Parliament and the President to respond to demands for democracy. We demand:

1. A list of all emergency measures

We ask the authorities to publish a list of all national and local emergency measures in one place. The public needs to know which body inforced them and according to which law/regulation. That way, everyone will have a more transparent overview of what is happening with their rights and freedoms in this crisis.

2. Strictly limited duration of all extraordinary measures

Extraordinary measures introduced to prevent the spread of coronaviruses must be proportionate and also be of limited duration. Otherwise, they could remain in place after the pandemic.

3. Introducing parliamentary-civic oversight

Cell phone location tracking is a problematic measure because of the potential scope of the people being monitored, as well as its usefulness. Regarding this measure, but also in all similar cases, parliamentary-civic oversight is necessary to prevent possible abuses. Extraordinary measures should be monitored by ad-hoc bodies composed of Members of Parliament and representatives of civil society.

4. A two-thirds parliamentary majority approval for restrictions on human rights and freedoms

Restrictions on human rights and civil liberties, such as monitoring of locations by cellphone, should be passed only by a two-thirds majority in parliament. It is imperative to ensure as much legitimacy as possible and to obtain as broad a consensus as possible for extraordinary measures.

5. Analysis of the introduction of postal and electronic voting

Conducting regular parliamentary elections by the end of the year could in risk because of the health crisis. That is why we ask the authorities to urgently analyze capacities and make a security assessment of introducing postal and electronic voting.

Gong is a Centre of Knowledge in the area of Civil Activism and the Building of Democratic Institutions within the framework of Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.