International Law on Freedom of Expression and the Right to Peaceful Assembly

Submitted on Fri, 08/02/2019 - 15:00

Excerpt from the briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova

You have probably noted that we commented on statements made by the ministries of foreign affairs of various countries regarding internal political events in Russia. There have been quite a few over the past week. It is amazing how sensitive our foreign colleagues are to our internal events. They expressed concerns with certain aspects of the electoral process in Russia. As you know, we have been commenting through our overseas missions, and we will keep doing so. We provide relevant explanations, try to do it in comprehensible form so that our partners would understand, supply audio and video materials, remind them of their own state of play, urge them to dedicate more time to their own domestic politics, and point out the generally recognised and fundamental international legal principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states as many seem to forget. We also take care to remind them that international law, which was still in force last time I checked, requires states to refrain from any comments or actions that could be interpreted as such interference.

Taking this opportunity, and since a number of foreign affairs ministries have a record of such statements, I would like to use today’s opportunity to illuminate our especially sensitive partners on the basics of international legal aspects of electoral processes and freedom of assembly. Prior to making any bizarre and awkward statements detached from reality, it would be a good idea to review – since we are talking about international relations – the same international legal documents these countries adopted and actively participated in their elaboration.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression “carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall … be such as are provided by law and are necessary … for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.”

According to Article 21 of the same International Covenant, the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly may be subject to restrictions “in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Similar provisions are contained in Article 10 on freedom of expression and Article 11 on freedom of assembly and association of the European Convention on Human Rights. Moreover, as an additional reason for possible restrictions on the exercise of the rights in question, they also mention “the prevention of disorder or crime”.

I would also like to remind our Western partners, whose recent comments have been mostly off-base, that the exercise by citizens of the Russian Federation of the right to peaceful assembly, established by the Constitution, is regulated by Federal Law of 19 June 2004 “On Meetings, Rallies, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets”. Its provisions are fully consistent with our country’s obligations under the aforementioned international agreements and treaties.

It is particularly strange to hear reprimands from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and many others, where the authorities ferociously “pummel” their fellow citizens, journalists and foreign nationals without distinction and cause. There can be no talk of their own proportional response after watching how demonstrations are dispersed in Paris, Frankfurt, Ferguson, London and elsewhere. Some teachers.