The challenges of the pandemic: restrictions of freedoms of assembly and speech in the light of the proportionality principle

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Author: Tatiana Khramova

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-4-36-54

Keywords: balancing; COVID-19 pandemic; freedom of assembly; freedom of speech; proportionality; restriction of rights


As a response to the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many countries have imposed restrictions on fundamental constitutional rights and freedoms, including freedoms of speech and assembly. The rapid spread of the understudied virus and the rise of the emotional tension within the society compelled the state authorities to adopt prompt measures to contain the virus. Unfortunately, the situation did not allow the decision-makers either to assess the specific aims of the restrictions or to consciously select the most adequate and least restrictive measures to fight the new virus. As a result, the legal systems have been infiltrated not only by the necessary limitations, but also by excessive and ineffective restrictive measures that are not suited to contain the infection and are incompatible with the principles of a pluralistic democracy. The article scrutinizes the latter statement focusing on anti-COVID-19 measures that impose restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly and speech. We resort to the criteria of the lawfulness of restrictions that stem from the principle of proportionality (legitimate aim, rational connection, necessity and proportionality stricto sensu). In the chapter devoted to the freedom of assembly, the author looks at different approaches that the states take to addressing the risks that public manifestations pose to public health in times of the pandemic. The comparative study also uncovers the differences in the relative value of freedom of assembly as opposed to that of «epidemiological safety». In the chapter devoted to the new limitations of freedom of speech, the author focuses on provisions that prevent the distribution of misinformation regarding COVID-19 and measures taken against it, adopted by several states, including Russia. The proportionality analysis shows that measures to counter fake news present an example of abuse of extraordinary powers to suppress public debate and limit the citizens’ right to criticize the government. The author comes to a conclusion that a blanket ban on small-scale manifestations and the liability for distribution of false information regarding COVID-19 and measures taken to fight it are disproportionate measures that are by no means justified by the aim of protecting public health in times of the pandemic.

About the author: Tatiana Khramova – Candidate of Sciences (Ph.D.) in Law; Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Khramova T. (2020) Ispytanie pandemiey: ogranicheniya svobody sobraniy i slova v svete printsipa proportsional'nosti [The challenges of the pandemic: restrictions of freedoms of assembly and speech in the light of the proportionality principle]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, vol.29, no.4, pp.36–54. (In Russian).


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