B. Prohibitions against the holding of meetings during the period under consideration
1. Events of July 1994
19. In July 1994 Mr Stankov, as chairman of the Petrich branch of the applicant association, requested the mayor of Petrich to authorise a meeting in the area of Samuilova krepost, to be held on 31 July 1994 in commemoration of a historical event. On 13 July 1994 permission was refused by the mayor, but no reasons were given. The applicant association appealed to the Petrich District Court which dismissed the appeal on 16 July 1994. The District Court found that since the applicant association had been banned, there were well-founded fears that the demonstration would endanger public order and the rights and freedoms of others. On 28 July 1994 Mr Iordan Kostadinov Ivanov, the representative of the applicant association, and another person, were issued written warnings by the police to stay away from the official traditional fair at Samuilova krepost. The warnings stated that they were based on the applicable law.
20. Despite the refusal of the authorities, on 31 July 1994 some members of the applicant association (120-150 according to the applicants’ assessment) attempted to approach the historical site of Samuilova krepost but the police, who according to the applicants were heavily armed, blocked their way. In the Government’s submission, the allegation that the area had been sealed off was “manifestly ill-founded”.
2. Events of April 1995
21. On 10 April 1995 the applicant association requested the mayor of Sandanski to authorise a meeting to be held on 22 April 1995 at the grave of Yane Sandanski at the Rozhen monastery, in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of his death. This was refused on 14 April 1995 as the applicant association was not duly registered by the courts. On 15 April 1995 the applicant association appealed to the Sandanski District Court stating inter alia that the Macedonian people had been deprived of their right to their own cultural life in violation of international law. The District Court never examined the appeal.
22. On 22 April 1995 the municipality of the town of Sandanski held an official ceremony to mark the anniversary of Yane Sandanski’s death. The event took place at his grave at the Rozhen monastery. The ceremony commenced at about 10 a.m. The applicants submitted that a group of their supporters who had travelled to the Rozhen monastery on 22 April 1995 had been ordered by the police to leave their cars in the nearby town of Melnik and had been transported to the monastery by local buses. There they had been allowed to visit the grave, to lay a wreath and to light candles. However, they had not been allowed to bring to the site the placards, banners and musical instruments which they were carrying or to make speeches at the grave. The police had allegedly taken away the ribbon attached to the wreath. The participants had then celebrated the event, without music, near the monastery but away from the grave.
3. Events of July 1995
23. In July 1995, as in previous years, the applicant association again requested authorisation to hold a commemorative meeting on 30 July 1995 at Samuilova krepost, the historical site in the vicinity of Petrich. On 14 July 1995 the mayor of Petrich refused the request without giving reasons. Upon the applicant’s appeal the refusal was upheld by judgment of the Petrich District Court of 18 July 1995. The District Court found that the “holding of a commemorative meeting of Ilinden on 30 July 1995 at Samuilova krepost would endanger public order”.
4. Events of April 1997
24. On 8 April 1997 the applicant association informed the mayor of Sandanski and the local police that they were organising a meeting to be held on 20 April 1997 at the Rozhen monastery to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Yane Sandanski. It stated in the letter to the mayor that Yane Sandanski, who is considered in Bulgaria as a Bulgarian national hero, was in fact a “Macedonian fighter for the national independence of Macedonia from Turkish rule and against the Bulgarian oppressors”. On 11 April 1997 the mayor refused to grant permission. He stated that permission for the commemoration of the same historical event had been requested on 4 April 1997 by the director of the local high school. The mayor further explained that the commemoration would be organised jointly by the school and the municipality and that “every [person], individually, could come”.
25. On 15 April 1997 Ilinden appealed to the Sandanski District Court against the mayor’s refusal stating inter alia that the mayor had not allowed them, “as a separate ethnic community”, to organise a meeting at the tomb of their national hero. On 17 April 1997 the President of the Sandanski District Court issued an order refusing to examine the appeal on the merits as it had been submitted on behalf of an unregistered organisation.
26. The date on which that order was notified to the applicant association is unclear. The applicants initially denied having received a response to their appeal, but in later submissions to the Commission stated that on 5 May 1997 they had become aware of the order of 17 April 1997.
27. As the defects in the appeal were not remedied within the statutory seven-days’ time-limit, on 5 May 1997 the President of the Sandanski District Court ordered the discontinuance of the proceedings. That order was notified to the applicant association on 13 August 1997. 28. The applicants claimed that on 20 April 1997 the police had prevented a group of their supporters from approaching the Rozhen monastery and that two persons had been ill-treated. They submitted that on 20 April 1997 only 13 students and two teachers from the local high school had arrived at the Rozhen monastery. The students had laid a wreath in the presence of the police and had left two minutes later.
5. Events of July and August 1997
29. On 14 July 1997 Mr Stankov as President of the association’s branch in Petrich requested authorisation for a commemorative meeting to be held on 2 August 1997 at Samuilova krepost, in the outskirts of Petrich. On 17 July 1997 the mayor refused the request, stating that the applicant association was not “a legitimate organisation”.
30. On 20 July 1997 the applicant association appealed to the Petrich District Court against the refusal of the mayor stating inter alia that there was no legal provision prohibiting meetings of organisations which were not “legitimate” and that the planned public event would be peaceful and would not endanger public order.
By decision of 1 August 1997 the Petrich District Court dismissed the appeal on the merits. It found that the applicant association was not duly registered “in accordance with the laws of the country” and that it had not been shown that the persons who had acted on its behalf actually represented it. As a result, it had been unclear who had organised the event and who would be responsible for order during the meeting, in accordance with sections 9 and 10 of the Law on Meetings and Marches. The District Court concluded that the lack of clarity as regards the organisers of a public event endangered public order and the rights and freedoms of others.
31. The applicants submitted that on 2 August 1997 the police had not allowed a group of supporters of the applicant association to reach the historical site in the vicinity of Petrich.