On 10 June 2022, ARTICLE 19 submitted an amicus brief to the European Court of Human Rights in a case concerning prosecution for holding a protest without prior notification to the authorities. The police found out about the applicant’s plans through monitoring social media. In the brief, ARTICLE 19 questioned the need to require prior notification of protests and the extent to which law enforcement can monitor social media. We also believe that the Court should consider the case in the context of restrictions of protests and other human rights violations in Russia.
The applicant in Andrey Vladimirovich Rudoy v Russia was arrested and fined after he posted a message on social media, announcing he would be holding a solo demonstration against the increase in transport fares and inviting others to join him. The police found out about the demonstration as a result of social media monitoring. Rudoy was given a warning and was later arrested and fined for a failure to notify the authorities about his public event, at which approximately 30 people were present.
ARTICLE 19 has long argued that individuals should not be required to seek permission from the State to organise protests. As already recognised in international and regional human rights standards, at most, notification regimes can be in place, but only for the purpose of enabling authorities to enable the right to protest. Exceptions from the notification regime should always be allowed for spontaneous protests where it is impractical to give advance notice.
Since the case came to the attention of authorities as a result of monitoring social media, it also raises concerns about the extent to which law enforcement agencies can conduct such monitoring and about the impact of such monitoring on the right to freedom of expression. Indeed, it has been shown that if people fear or suspect the government or one of its agencies are monitoring their messages, individuals are more likely to self-censor, causing a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression. This is over and above the fact that social media surveillance by law enforcement disproportionately targets marginalised communities.
In the submission to the European Court, ARTICLE 19 outlines international and comparative standards on the obligation of advance notification about organising an assembly. We found that there is a presumption in favour of freedom of assembly meaning that to exercise this right, individuals should not be required to seek prior authorisation from the State. Prior notification should only be in place to help the State facilitate the holding of assemblies. The procedure for notifications should not be burdensome as that would risk interfering with the right to assembly.
The submission also demonstrates that there are few international and national standards that explicitly regulate social media surveillance by law enforcement. This leaves room for abuse with no mechanism in place to protect social media users. Hence, it is important that the European Court provides guidance on how social media monitoring by law enforcement should be regulated and what measures are needed to fully protect users’ human rights.
ARTICLE 19 also argues that the European Court should consider the case in the context of the crackdown on the right to protest in Russia. Already prior to the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, there was a widespread crackdown on the right to protest and severe restrictions on freedom of expression. Draconian laws with harsh criminal penalties have been increasingly adopted. Alongside the increased online surveillance, the chilling effect on freedom of expression has been staggering.