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Our view: Refusing to mask up is not the hill to die on

Protesters Outside The Presidential Palace On Saturday Evening (photo Politis)
Protesters outside the Presidential Palace during the first demo (Photo Politis)

It came as a bit of a surprise that the authorities on Monday decided to allow mass gatherings in the form of protests under certain conditions, following an anti-restrictions demonstration by hundreds of people outside the presidential palace on Saturday night.

On Sunday when the police spokesman said there would be a meeting to discuss the protest, where no one wore masks or kept any distance, the expectation was that the response would be another lecture about the public being irresponsible and the introduction of some new draconian measures imposed on the entire population, which they did at the start of the pandemic.

Instead, the health ministry has drawn up a list of guidelines for protests that includes people needing to stay 1.5 metres apart, and wear masks during such events.

In the circumstances, the government did the right thing to try and retain some freedoms by striking a balance between the right to protest and by holding organisers responsible. In the event there is no organiser, the protest will be deemed illegal and police will act. They could have come down a lot harder, given the rules already in place under which there should have been no protest and everyone there was legally liable for a fine.

The new rules in themselves could very well put an end to new protests because who is going to risk organising a demonstration where they are obliged to keep hundreds of people in line or be held personally responsible?

Nevertheless, this was a win of sorts for democratic rights, which are being slowly eroded in the West since coronavirus was declared a pandemic. In Germany at the weekend a planned protest was banned by police, a decision later overturned by a court. Even at that, 300 people were arrested in Berlin.

Of course there have been ongoing protests in the US and UK for months for which no restrictions have been applied or condemnation heard from any quarter. Authorities in these countries seem to come down a lot harder on anti-lockdown or anti-mask protests, than any other kind of demonstration.

Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis was right to point out however that every right comes with a responsibility. People should be allowed to protest if they feel they must, but should behave in line with the rules as laid down since the government is willing to offer the opportunity, even though it does not have to in the circumstances.

If people cannot behave responsibly at any new protests that are planned, this concession will be taken away, and when the time comes to protest about something far worse that may well come down the line, no one will have the opportunity be heard. Refusing to mask up, as annoying as it may be, is not the hill to die on.

 

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