01 августа

International law on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly

Excerpt fr om briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, Moscow, August 1, 2019

You have probably noted our recent responses to statements made by the foreign affairs agencies of various countries regarding internal political events in Russia. There have been many of them over the past week. It is amazing how sensitive our foreign colleagues are to internal events in our country. They have expressed concerns about certain aspects of the electoral process in Russia. As you know, we have been commenting through our overseas missions, and we will continue to do so. We always provide appropriate explanations in a form that is readily understandable to our partners, supply audio and video materials, remind them of their own internal practices, urge them to spend more time on their domestic politics, and point out the generally recognised and fundamental international legal principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, because many seem to be forgetting about it. 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 several foreign affairs agencies have a record of such statements, I would like to use this opportunity to educate our especially sensitive partners on the international legal aspects of electoral processes and freedom of assembly. Before we start hearing any bizarre, awkward or untethered statements, it would be a good idea to review – since we are talking about international relations – the international legal documents these countries have helped write and adopted.

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

Article 21 of the same International Covenant on the right of peaceful assembly says the exercise of this right is also 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 entirely off-base, that the exercise of the constitutional right to peaceful assembly by citizens of the Russian Federation is regulated by the Federal Law of June 19, 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 especially strange to hear reprimands from countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and many others, wh ere the authorities ferociously pummel their fellow citizens, journalists and foreign nationals that turn up, with or without cause. There should be no talk of proportional response after watching how demonstrations have been dispersed in Paris, Frankfurt, Ferguson, London and other places. Yet, here they are lecturing others.