Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece (57/1997/841/1047) 10 July 1998: refusal of courts to register an association suspected of undermining the country’s territorial integrity

Greece – refusal of courts to register an association suspected of undermining the country’s territorial integrity

II. ARTICLE 11 OF THE CONVENTION

A. Whether there had been an interference

Interference with exercise of right to freedom of association: Greek courts’ refusal to register applicants’ association had deprived applicants of any possibility of jointly or individually pursuing the aims they had laid down in the memorandum of association and thus of exercising the right in question.

B. Justification for the interference

1. "Prescribed by law"

Articles 79 to 81 of the Civil Code allowed courts to refuse an application to register an association where they found that the validity of its memorandum of association was open to question.

2. Legitimate aim

Protection of national security and prevention of disorder.

3. "Necessary in a democratic society"

That citizens should be able to form a legal entity in order to act collectively in a field of mutual interest was one of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of association – way in which national legislation enshrined that freedom and its practical application by the authorities revealed state of democracy in the country concerned.

Aims of association set out in its memorandum of association had been exclusively to preserve and develop traditions and folk culture of Florina region – perfectly clear and legitimate.

Relevant press articles had reported matters some of which were unconnected with applicants and drawn inferences derived from a subjective assessment by authors of the articles – courts had taken those articles into consideration and also the political dispute that then dominated relations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and had held that the applicants and their association represented a danger to Greece’s territorial integrity – statement based on a mere suspicion as to true intentions of association’s founders.

Greek law did not lay down a system of preventive review for setting up non-profit-making associations – Article 105 of the Civil Code empowered courts to order that the association should be dissolved if after its registration it pursued an aim different from the one laid down in its memorandum of association.

Refusal to register association disproportionate to objectives pursued.

Conclusion: violation (unanimously).

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