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What is and what is not “police information gathering”, what police officers are allowed to do, how they are allowed to do, and what they are not allowed to do

As I can follow in the media, the police are visiting farmers these days and asking them if they will participate in the farmers’ protest in Ljubljana with tractors or not, and if they know who will participate in the protest. Of course, people question whether such an inquiry is in accordance with the law or not, but the police say that they are acting in accordance with Article 34 of the Law on the Duties and Powers of the Police and that this is normal practice.

But let’s go in order. The first Police Act in independent Slovenia was created in 1998 in my office at the Ministry of the Interior. This law merely enumerated police powers and referred to a by-law, where police powers were to be defined more precisely. The Constitutional Court demanded that police powers be defined in a law and not in a by-law. This was already done with amendments to the aforementioned law, and finally in 2013 with the Act on Tasks and Powers of the Police, in 2013. At that time, I was the Minister of the Interior and of course I followed the creation of the law, and I represented and defended it in the National Assembly, so you allow me to write that I know something about this.

For a better understanding of my thoughts below, let me quote Article 34 of the aforementioned law in its entirety, which reads as follows:

Article 34 (collection of notifications)

(1) Police officers collect information from persons who could provide useful information for the successful performance of police duties specified by this or other law.

(2) A person’s participation in the collection of information is voluntary. A person has the right to anonymity unless the law governing criminal procedure and the law governing misdemeanour procedure do not provide otherwise. Before collecting information, police officers instruct the person about the right to voluntariness and anonymity, unless the information collection was initiated by the person or in the case of preventive activities.

(3) Police officers may collect information from a person directly at the scene of the incident, in the police office, at the person’s place of work, at another suitable place, and with the person’s consent, also at their home.

(4) The provisions of this article shall be applied mutatis mutandis when police officers request information and notifications in writing from a natural person, an individual self-employed individual, an individual engaged in an independent activity, or a legal entity.

Well, here we are. I myself do not recall a case where police officers visited individuals at home and asked them whether they would participate in any public gathering, whether it was a registered or unannounced gathering. The right to public assembly is a constitutional right, which the state, on its behalf, and the state authorities, including the police, are obliged to enable and protect. Of course, there is a difference between registered and unregistered public meetings. In the case of reported cases, the organiser is the one who reports the public assembly to the police, provides security guards, ensures compliance with the laws at the public assembly and cooperates with the police in protecting the public assembly. None of this applies to unannounced public gatherings. In this case, the police have a much more demanding task, since they have to ensure public order and peace, as well as respect for other regulations, while they usually do not know who the organiser is.

Both in 2012/2013, when I was the Minister of the Interior, as well as during the third Janša’s government in 2020/2022, public gatherings were generally completely unannounced, so the police had a demanding job, which they successfully completed, but even according to today’s words of several former police chiefs at different levels, the police never visited individuals at home and asked them whether they would attend a public rally or not. It is true that at that time the police visually controlled gathering places of people going to unannounced public gatherings and assessed how many there were and what else, but they never visited individuals at home and asked them whether they would participate in an unannounced public gathering or not, especially not asking individuals if they know who will attend such a public meeting and who will not.

As a rule, public gatherings during the left-wing governments are all reported to the police, so the police know who the organiser is, how security is taken care of, how many participants there will be, and so on. They assure me that every public gathering of farmers is also reported to the police.

The talk of Jaša Jenull and some others that everything is fine with police visits to individuals, saying that the police visited him during the protests that he also organised, is of course complete madness and pure deception. Of course, they visited him because they found that he could be one of the organisers of unannounced public gatherings and nothing else.

In the case of current police visits to farmers and asking whether they will attend the public meeting or not, and especially asking if they know who will attend, is a pure abuse of police powers, in the case of asking if they know who will attend the public meeting, pure incitement to denunciation of the worst kind.

Let me justify my words. If we stretch the first paragraph of Article 34 of the mentioned law to the point of impossibility, extreme leftists could say that the police have an adequate legal basis for collecting information, but this is not the case. For each registered public meeting, they can get all the necessary information from the organiser and there is no need to visit the farmers, at most the police can publicly monitor the gathering places of farmers before the public meeting and assess how many there are and whether they comply with the law, in particular the Road Traffic Safety Act and the public order and peace, and that is all.

But let’s move on. Let’s say that a police officer comes to a farmer completely unnecessarily with the intention of asking him whether he will participate in a public rally or not, then he must inform the farmer beforehand that he is collecting information about a public rally of farmers, so that the farmer can refuse to participate in the collection of information at any time, and especially that he has the right to anonymity, and even before that he should have asked the farmer if he would even allow the conversation to take place in his yard.

I conclude from the media reports that these talks with the farmers did not go like that, so it is another proof that it is a flagrant violation and abuse of police powers. If there is ever a serious internal police investigation on this topic, and there should be, it could happen that the police officers who interviewed the farmers will be the ones who get the short shrift, and not the police chiefs who ordered them to do so. In the name of justice, in particular, if not only, the police chiefs who gave such a task to the police officers should be held accountable.

Even in the hard socialist militia times, which I experienced myself, we never did anything like this. How well I remember the unannounced public rally of LIK Savinja Celje workers around 1986. Unsatisfied with their wages, the workers organised an unannounced public rally in the form of a march through the streets of Celje to the municipality headquarters and back to the factory. This was the time before the famous Litostroj strike and the march in front of the assembly at that time. It did not even occur to us to visit the homes of LIK Savinja Celje workers and ask them whether or not they would participate in an unannounced public meeting. However, we stood at intersections and ensured a smooth march of workers through the streets of Celje.

However, it seems that during the Svoboda of Robert Golob, everything is allowed and a little more. But how much longer, gentlemen politicians from the pigeon house, how much longer, gentlemen police chiefs, will you be vassals in pigeon house?

Dr Vinko Gorenak

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