All forms of peaceful assembly are protected, including online meetings and online activities to plan, organize, and mobilize for assemblies.
- Article 21 of the Covenant protects peaceful assemblies wherever they take place: outdoors, indoors and online; in public and private spaces; or a combination thereof. Such assemblies may take many forms, including demonstrations, protests, meetings, processions, rallies, sit-ins, candlelit vigils and flash mobs. They are protected under article 21 whether they are stationary, such as pickets, or mobile, such as processions or marches.
- Peaceful assemblies are often organized in advance, allowing time for the organizers to notify the authorities to make the necessary preparations. However, spontaneous assemblies, which are typically direct responses to current events, whether coordinated or not, are equally protected under article 21.
- Collective civil disobedience or direct action campaigns can be covered by article 21, provided that they are non-violent.
- The conduct of specific participants in an assembly may be deemed violent if authorities can present credible evidence that, before or during the event, those participants are inciting others to use violence, and such actions are likely to cause violence; that the participants have violent intentions and plan to act on them; or that violence on their part is imminent. Isolated instances of such conduct will not suffice to taint an entire assembly as non-peaceful, but where it is manifestly widespread within the assembly, participation in the gathering as such is no longer protected under article 21.
- States must respect and ensure counterdemonstrations as assemblies in their own right, while preventing undue disruption of the assemblies to which they are opposed.
- States parties must not, for example, block or hinder Internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies. The same applies to geotargeted or technology-specific interference with connectivity or access to content. States should ensure that the activities of Internet service providers and intermediaries do not unduly restrict assemblies or the privacy of assembly participants.
- Although the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly is normally understood to pertain to the physical gathering of persons, article 21 protection also extends to remote participation in, and organization of, assemblies, for example online.
- Individuals are free to use Internet platforms, such as social media and other ICTs in order to organise themselves for purposes of peaceful assembly.
- Any restriction on the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and right to freedom of association with regard to the Internet is in compliance with Article 11 of the Convention, namely it: - is prescribed by a law, which is accessible, clear, unambiguous and sufficiently precise to enable individuals to regulate their conduct; - pursues a legitimate aim as exhaustively enumerated in Article 11 of the Convention; - is necessary in a democratic society and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. There is a pressing social need for the restriction. There is a fair balance between the exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of association and the interests of the society as a whole. If a less intrusive measure achieves the same goal, it is applied. The restriction is narrowly construed and applied, and does not encroach on the essence of the right to freedom of assembly and association.
- The right to freedom of peaceful assembly also applies to online spaces and the use of information and communications technology. States must refrain from restricting access to the Internet, specific websites or telecommunication networks for the purpose of preventing peaceful assemblies.
- The mandate holder has called upon States to ensure that everyone can access and use the Internet to exercise these rights, and that online associations and assemblies are facilitated in accordance with international human rights standards. The Human Rights Council has recognized that although an assembly has generally been understood as a physical gathering of people, human rights protections, including for freedom of assembly, may apply to analogous interactions taking place online.
- No person should be held criminally, civilly or administratively liable for organizing, advocating, or participating in a peaceful protest or for establishing or operating an association for a lawful purpose. Dissent is a legitimate part of the exercise of peaceful assembly and association rights and should be protected, online and offline.
- In general, the blocking of entire websites is an extreme, disproportionate measure that severely limits the ability to carry out these activities, and therefore undermines the exercise of freedom of assembly and association.
- Internet-based technologies play an increasing role in the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The Internet can be used for forms of online activism related to assemblies, and such activities warrant protection. The Internet and social media may also legitimately serve as a means of facilitating assemblies.
- States have a positive duty to facilitate and protect the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This duty should be reflected in the legislative framework and relevant law enforcement regulations and practices. It includes a duty to facilitate assemblies at the organizer’s preferred location and within ‘sight and sound’ of the intended audience. The duty to protect also involves the protection of assembly organizers and participants from third party individuals or groups who seek to undermine their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
- Counter-demonstrations shall be facilitated so that they occur within ‘sight and sound’ of their target unless this does not physically interfere with the other assembly and does not give rise to a risk of imminent violence that cannot be mitigated or prevented.
- All reasonable and appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that spontaneous and non-notified assemblies are facilitated and protected in the same way as assemblies that are planned in advance.
- Legislation and state policies should therefore ensure that the Internet can be used to prepare and organize assemblies and especially to use social media as a medium to mobilize and organize assemblies that later take place offline.