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Protection of the right to freedom of assembly

How can my right to freedom of assembly be protected?

The protection of the right to freedom of assembly is very fundamental in a democratic society. The government as well as the citizens have distinctive roles to play in its protection. It is the primary responsibility of the state to put in place adequate mechanisms to ensure that the right to freedom of assembly is practically enjoyed and not hampered by undue bureaucratic regulation.

This responsibility of the government comes with a counter obligation on the part of the citizen to ensure that his or her right is exercised appropriately and in accordance with the law. This leads us to the next question.

1

What should I do to protect my right before approaching the court?

To protect your right to freely assemble, the following obligations must be performed:

  • In the case of identifiable organizers of assemblies, they should co-operate with law-enforcement agencies to ensure that participants in their assemblies comply with the law. This can be done by obtaining police presence at protests.
  • The organizer of a peaceful assembly is any legal or physical entity that organizes, holds, and supervises the peaceful assembly.
  • In ensuring the peaceful nature of an assembly, organizers and participants should avoid violent activities or conducts and statements that could lead to violence.
  • Risk assessment: Organizers should consider what risks are presented by their assembly and how they would deal with them, should they materialize.
  • Responsibility to obey the lawful directions of law-enforcement officials.
2

Why do I need to protect my right to freedom of assembly?

Freedom of peaceful assembly can serve many purposes, including (but not limited to) the expression of views and the defence of common interests, celebration, commemoration, picketing and protest. The exercise of this freedom can have both symbolic and instrumental significance and can be an important strand in the maintenance and development of culture and the preservation of minority identities.

It is complemented by other rights and freedoms, such as freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Therefore, freedom of assembly is of fundamental importance for the personal development, dignity, and fulfilment of every individual and for the progress and welfare of society.

  • Protecting Civic spaces

The exercise of the right to freedom of assembly will directly translate to more open civic spaces where human rights violations are on the decrease and people and especially journalists are not unlawfully detained for criticising government as is sometimes the practice in Nigeria..

  • Promotion of democracy

By protecting and promoting the right to freedom of assembly, we invariably strengthen our democracy by holding our leaders accountable because people are freely allowed to criticise the policies of the government through peaceful protests. Conversely, if peaceful protests are disallowed by Government, it gives the government arbitrary powers and will amount to human rights violation.

  • Enforcement of human rights

In addition to serving the interests of democracy, the ability to freely assemble will foster the enforcement of other related rights like freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

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