Freedom of assembly is a constitutionally protected right even if the demonstration may be offensive to some, a senior lawyer said on Friday.

Chairman of the Cyprus Bar Association, Christos Clerides, was asked to comment on the request made by the Ukrainian-Cypriot Friendship Community that pro-Russia demonstrations be banned. The group said it sent the request to President Nikos Christodoulides on Thursday.

“Restrictions [on assembly] can only be imposed where there is a risk of disturbances and unrest,” he said.

Clerides further reason that: “[It] is based not only on the constitution but also on the European Convention of Human Rights, exceptions to the protected right of freedom of assembly are very difficult to make – there is a risk that the state may violate individual rights.”

He emphasised that limitations on this right are rare in democracies because it is considered one of the fundamental freedoms in such societies, adding that freedom of assembly is tied to freedom of speech.

Outlining the sacred nature of the right of assembly, Clerides referred to the ECHR’s rulings that restricting this right even during the Covid-19 pandemic was found to violate individual rights.

“The member states of the European Convention on Human Rights are very hesitant to restrict the right of assembly, even for issues that are not agreeable to some,” he added.

The lawyer clarified, however, that the right of assembly can be curtailed by the state if the purpose of the gathering is to cause unrest or is driven by hateful rhetoric.

“Each demonstration is judged on its own basis, and gatherings cannot be generally prohibited because they are related to Russia or because they support [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” he said.

For its part, the Ukrainian-Cypriot Friendship Community argues that pro-Russia demonstrations are taking place on the island which supports the war and the killing of civilians.

“We are compelled to appeal to you [Christodoulides] to take measures to end support for Russia’s criminal war against Ukraine, the signs of which we see on the territory of the Republic of Cyprus. While Russia is waging a barbaric war in the heart of Europe, killing people, and committing unimaginable crimes, in Cyprus mass events are taking place in support of the war and the killing of people,” Tetyana Ioannou said.

The head of the group took it one step further and suggested that criminal proceedings be taken against any individuals that decide to organise such rallies.

“We also urge you to bring to justice the organisers of public events that justify the Russian military offensive against Ukraine,” Ioannou concluded.