ARTICLE 19 shares the Special Rapporteur’s concerns about States deceitfully using crisis situations – from the COVID-19 pandemic to socio-political crises like conflict or coups – to repress protests. We have witnessed violations, from killings to mass arrests, against protesters during crises, particularly for groups at risk of discrimination. The Special Rapporteur’s report therefore comes at a pivotal time.
As the Special Rapporteur rightly notes, the vulnerability of journalists and media workers who monitor and report on protests is only exacerbated during crisis situations, including physical attacks, arrests and other human rights violations. It is essential that States take all necessary measures to protect journalists during protests, even when an assembly is dispersed or declared unlawful, where their role becomes all the more important.
We are also deeply concerned with States using biometric identification and recognition technologies, such as facial or emotional recognition, for mass surveillance of protests during crisis situations. This brings significant chilling effects, discouraging individuals from exercising their right to protest, undermining the effective functioning of participatory democracy. We urge States to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur, as well as the High Commissioner, and never use these technologies to surveil protests, or for any mass surveillance of public spaces.
Alongside surveillance, States have increasingly resorted to Internet shutdowns and other forms of restrictions, including blocking and filtering, to repress protests and conceal grave human rights violations during crises. We once again remind States that Internet shutdowns can never be justified under international human rights law.
We call on all States dedicated to protecting civic space and the right to protest to fully implement the recommendations put forward by the Special Rapporteur.