Somewhere in Khartoum (capital of Sudan), you wake up and grapple with the
daily dilemma of deciding between putting food in your belly or reaching school
on time via transportation which is going to rob you of 100 pounds. Your heart
pangs with the realization that your missing father who has been declared dead
may never be found again. You pray that you may be able to return home at the
end of the day without being beaten, molested, harassed, imprisoned or shot. ‘Janjaweed’
the name of Sudan’s militia that embitters your heart and petrifies your soul is
something that you cannot elude; try as you may.
This is the appalling condition which serves as the reality of millions of
Sudanese. It is, perhaps, one of the most horrifying testaments of atrocity
since the Rwandan Genocide. This is where no government, no law, no police, not
even the constitution can offer protection. In that kind of hysteria, in those
tumultuous times, the only tool that can aid people is that of protest. This is
a point where revolution is not merely a word passively staring at you through
history books, it is a lifestyle.
The Sudan crisis mentioned above is a pre-eminent example of the pertinence and
potency of the tool which binds us across generations, across countries and
across race: The Right to Protest. This has become even more accessible in the
digital age, especially since the advent of the pandemic, digital tools have
come to the forefront, as protesters have used these to construct a network of
resistance in order to further their interests.
These digitalized logistics have assisted in broadening the horizon of
transnational activism as it unlocks the doors to variety of political
identities and ideologies that integrate to bring in positive solution and
changes in the world. Protests have helped us in defining and protecting the
civic space and provide an impetus to the advancement of engaged and informed
global citizenry. Additionally, the digitalization of freedom of expression and
right to protest has helped in forming a globalized network of cyberspace
citizens, who not only express their grievance but also the interests of poorly
represented, excluded and marginalized communities.
For instance, the symbolic interaction of cyberspace citizens under the banner
of ‘LGBTQAI+ pride flag’ has helped in connecting people across the globe to
take socio-political stance for the rights of the marginalized
communities. What started as a small scale protest in California in 1978,
over the murder of a gay has now taken the shape of an unstoppable wave that
would not halt until its legitimate demand of getting equal civil and Human
Rights are met.
This appreciable transformation of a local protest into a worldwide movement has
compelled the Sovereigns to bring the neglected and excluded transgender
community into mainstream. Moreover, pandemic has served to reinforce that
function of online platforms which has often been overlooked and
That function is none other than that of transcendence. These platforms allow
the people to transcend the limits imposed by the narrow borders of physical
collaboration and join hands virtually. No longer is the internet just a tool
for living vicariously by following the journey of those leading more
extravagant lives. The current scenario is such that, if you are not making your
presence felt on the internet by getting involved with at least some initiative
or the other, you are not living.
One only needs to allude to the environmental protests to gauge the extent of
truth of the statement. In that sense, COVID-19 has reiterated the importance of
the internet and information and communication technologies in helping organize
peaceful protests and extending to people the complete freedom to exercise their
right to peaceful assembly and association online.
This right has especially come to limelight owing to the efforts of climate
activist, Greta Thunberg, who organized a digital protest by raising an army
of young activists who are at the forefront of admonishing the government for
its lack of care towards the environment. This kills two birds with one stone:
it opens up the eyes of youngsters to the myriad of possibilities that can stem
from a platform they have grown up using, and it allows people to stay home
while not allowing the mistakes of the government to elude the public eye.
This example is one in a multitude of examples that show the laser like
potential of the internet, with its ability to cut through even the most
impenetrable surface with the help of its beam, which is strengthened by people
themselves. These are the people who gather to stand in solidarity against the
wrong, access invaluable, and life saving information and allow others to do the
same by spreading the word of forming assemblies and associations online.
The pandemic has witnessed a rise of hashtags, which are no longer limited to
showing people ‘the outfit of the day’. Rather, some of the most prominent
hashtags which have inspired a multitude of social movements are on the rise,
which serve to reiterate the social value and outreach of this tool. Hashtags
serve to foster a spirit of participation and are used to spread information
relating to a particular theme, mobilizing popular support and increase
#ProtestatHome in Poland is a case in point. The Polish parliament was on the
verge on passing laws that would almost completely ban abortion in the region.
These bills had previously been withdrawn in 2016 following mass protests and
angry public. However, it did not deter the government from considering it
again, as they knew this time the pandemic would be a deterring factor in
organizing massive demonstrations on the streets.
However, the wit and virtue of the protesters could not be impeded, as they
carried on their mobilization and active resistance from the comfort of their
own homes, by taking aid of this hashtag to widen their outreach. Similarly, #BlackLivesMatter
caused a furore over the police brutalities that led to the demise of an
innocent black man. “Black lives matter” has undoubtedly taken the legacy of
Martin Luther King Junior’s resistance to ill treatment against people of color
forward, but at the same time it raised many concerns.
As the governments legitimize the use of facial recognition techniques and new
surveillance technologies during protest, it brings the institution of
representative and trustee democracy into witness box. During the Black lives
matter movement, artificial startup company Datamir which has firehouse access
to all the tweets, was found to have sold the location data of protest
organisers and participants, including those of peaceful demonstrations. This
is not the first incidence where government officials were observed buying
private data without a warrant, which clearly violates the ethical and Human
rights of the citizens.
Moreover, data from ‘Access now’ says that there have been several detected
instances, where malware based phishing attacks were made to hack social media
accounts of protest organizers and disrupt their legal tool kits. In Vietnam,
the digital security helpline of Access now reported social engineering attacks
on targeted accounts on journalists, artists and vocal influencers. In June
2019, during the protests for demand of legitimate rights, under #IamTheSudanRevolution,
within a week of internet shut down- 100 people were killed, 700 were injured
and at least 70 rape incidents took place, this shutdown on internet closed
the door of genuine reporting and prevented journalists to voice out the
concerns of people to the global community.
Moreover, the United States Government Accountability Office (by Steve Renderos)
report says that the facial recognition techniques is used as a growing
evidence in the court to prove the case of unlawful behavior during protest and
sedition charges, disproportionately harmed the communities of color, who are
already over policed. This creates orientational inequalities among people.
Thus, advocation of free flow of information is essential, especially during the
time of crisis, as it remains the only viable step to bring realization of moral
obligation of the leaders towards free dissipation of information within a
reasonable time frame.
The creativity of a virtual protester is perhaps one of the biggest advantages
at his disposal. People are channeling their outrage at brutal policies and laws
using the aid of popular video games like animal crossing. Likewise, the
fifth installment of Nintendo switch is simulation social game where users
experience life like situations and they are able to interact with
anthropomorphic animals. As is evident from the aforementioned examples, social
media has the potential to rejuvenate democracy and solidify civic engagement
and has helped activism to transcend the narrow cage of physical mobilization to
adapt itself to the virtual society.
Thus, one of the most brilliant effects of virtual protests has been the
revitalization of democracy by bringing civic participation to the forefront. In
this sense, the public discourse is formed and strengthened via virtual digital
public sphere. Nancy Scola, an American writer and journalist perfectly summed
up the omnipotence of social media sites by writing, “Social media sites are
creating new outlets for youth to organize and resist. They have millions of
members world wide”. According to a survey conducted by the Center for the
Digital Future at University of Southern California's Annenberg School for
Communication, 81% of members of online communities use the Internet to
participate in social causes, up from 75% in 2007.
As stated before, the pandemic has only served to reiterate the importance of
internet as a tool for online engagement and protests. It means that this is not
the first instance of using the internet as a tool for growth. One only needs to
remember the Arab Spring Revolutions in Africa and the middle east to gauge the
extent of momentousness of the online protests, which were pertinent even a
decade ago. In those protests, activists took it upon themselves to redefine the
online civic space by carefully bridging the gap between the online and offline
action and creating a link that has since then.
This has come to serve as a monumental precedent in terms of forging new links
between the online and offline civic space so as to allow citizens to have
access to information, organize collective unions and ensure their grievances
are not left unaddressed. This is especially important to ensure at a time when
public services and educational structures have been shifted online, partly due
to COVID-19 and partly to foster mass digitalization. The digitalization can be
understood to mean mass privatization due to the monopolistic inclinations and
unfavourable policies of tech giants which usher in an era of pre-mediated
privatization due to their acts which impinge on the rights of individuals,
especially the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and associations. 
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights effectively remarked
that accusing journalists and activists with sedition for reporting on or
passing remarks about the protests are basically impeding the growth and
acceleration of human rights principals. She also expressed her concern over
the ongoing farmers protest, which has again highlighted the significance of
consultation with stakeholders before formulation of any public policy.
It leads one to wonder, why does the sate go to such drastic lengths in order to
ensure that the right to protest of the citizens has been infringed? In order to
answer that question comprehensively, it is imperative that we carefully
scrutinize both sides of the coin. It would be beneficial, at this stage, to
allude to excesses and unfair measures that have been deployed by protesters
which may have a bearing on the government’s willful suppression of online
Firstly, one needs to understand the internet as a rendition of the Wild West, a
place where there are no external sanctions or restrictions, for the most part.
People are free to speak their mind; and the 21st century citizens who live
amidst intolerance and new tactics of ostracization, namely, cancel culture,
know better than anyone words can be explosive.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that article 19 of the constitution, which
guarantees the freedom of speech and expression in India, which is an
integral part of protests, can also lead to sedition under Section 124 A,
criminal conspiracy under Section 120 B and has the potential to disrupt the
peaceful atmosphere in the society and promote enmity between different groups
based on religion and ethnicity.
The SC has held in the case of Ram Lila Maidan Incident v. Home Secretary,
Union of India
and bears, that a person cannot be barred from exercising his
fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest by an arbitrary action of the
executive or legislature. However, a somewhat different judgement was passed
by Justice KK Sashidharan and Justice R. Subramaniam in the case of Govt. Of
Tamil Nadu and others v. P. Ayyakannu
, a division bench of Justice KK
Sashidharan and Justice R. Subramaniam denied permission to carry out protests
at marina beach.
After a writ appeal filed by the government of Tamil Nadu subsequently, against
the orders of the court to carry out peaceful hunger strike at marina beach, the
following principals were laid down: the prosecutors who felt entitled to make
their cause publicly known often forget that:
their right to protest ends where the other person’s right to move around freely
and right not to listen begins.
The fundamental right of any citizen does not guarantee him the right to making
his speech heard by a citizen who is not willing to do so. Likewise, a person
cannot forcefully subject any other citizen to bear a witness to any procession
that he does not want to be a part of or lend support to. Thus, based on these
grounds, even a peaceful and non violent protest can be restricted by the law if
the judges feel it necessary to do so. Thus, our right to protest and dissent in
a democracy are subject to certain restrictions, and certainly do not cover
within its ambit the right to obstruct the liberties of another person.
If one analyses the data presented by Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition, it
was observed in 2019 that one of the most commonly cited reasons (either
explicitly or deciphered through the conduct) for internet shutdown were
protests. The fact was taken under cognizance by world communities and
compelled the largest International Organization-United Nations to release
official statements expressing their concern over threat to the essence of
Declaration on Human Rights as such clamp downs on civil societies and
activists seriously hampers the growth and progress of humanistic values.
Moreover, it is a direct infringement of the fundamental right to freedom of
speech and expression, which not only leads to miscommunication between the
protesters, but also restricts access to the vital information and supplementary
resources. As has already been explained previously, the internet has served as
a space for connecting and organizing activists and regulating their activities.
However, the court stated in the case of W.B. v. Subodh Gopal
the primacy of Article 19 of the constitution, as it explained that article
19 provides a guarantee for those basic rights which are recognized as the
natural rights, which need to be bestowed upon and are endowed with the citizens
of a free country. Thus, the free flow of ideas and dissent is essential to
sustain, rejuvenate and strengthen democracy.
It is imperative that the citizens
are able to freely express themselves without any fear of coercion or threat
from the state. Part 3 of the constitution is fundamentally built upon three
pillars without which it would collapse and be rendered useless. These three
pillars are- self-governance, societal tolerance and autonomy. Going by these
parameters, dissent and criticism becomes essential to curb the democratic
institution from running amok. These pillars become the very basis on which the
sustenance of this system prevails.
This is because the citizens themselves
govern the nation through their representatives. Dissent, therefore, is
inevitable. To imagine that every single citizen of the nation will be happy
with the way things in the country are being handled is a utopian assumption
that could lead to a dystopian nightmare.
The internet and its mammoth scope proposes a challenge to the first amendment
of the US as well. The enigma lies in the fact that although the first amendment
is supposed to have a moderating affect on the internet, it rarely
does. This is due to the inherent nature of the internet in terms of its
ambit, which practically allows communication of people across geographical
boundaries and with the click of a button.
This may seem conducive to foster a
spirit of globalisation and cooperation, but in reality this makes people feel
that they do not have to face the music if they are sitting behind the safe
armour of their computer screens. Therein lies the paradox of this platform and
the conundrum that the first amendment seeks to resolve but cannot. From the
issue of the right to protest online, arise a plethora of other issues that
demand urgent and immediate attention. The first one of these pressing issues
pertains to establishing a balance between protection of those who are
vulnerable and free expression and statement of dissent and opinion.
question of balance stem a myriad of other issues, specifically the issue of
monitoring, regulating, curbing hate speeches and anonymous expression and
whether the unorganised media should be restricted in any way, shape or form
from spreading views that are considered undesirable or blasphemous by a
specific section of people or by the public at large. It is obvious that
screening and filtering should be allowed only to the extent that is necessary.
But this statement, again, is a cause for bewilderment, as one poses the
question, what exactly is “necessary” to be curtailed in the domain where
freedom of speech is one of the main pillars of democracy?
Regardless of the conundrum that we are brought directly in conflict with
pertaining to the balance between two seemingly contradictory goals, there exist
mandates and treaties that serve to uphold the spirit of the protest and
safeguard the rights of individuals in this matter. This is because of the
realization that is slowly spreading and taking firm roots in the minds of
people and higher authorities regarding the indispensability of the right to
Referring to the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of
assembly and association, one finds that it legitimises the associations that
are formed online by saying that associations can include even online
associations. It also recognised the role played by the internet in
fostering a sense of civic participation and subsequently strengthening
democracies. According to the Association for Progressive Communication (APC),
online association refers to the act of forming any group (formal or informal)
online, with or without moderators or group leaders. The UN Human Rights
Council has also been in the forefront of advocating for the rights of the
citizens online just as they have been protected offline.
Throughout the course of history, states have witnessed landscapes changing,
territories and regions convulsing, managerial classes replacing the aristocracy
and the economic and social structures undergoing an evolution; all due to the
sheer perseverance and tenacity with which protestors throughout history have
persevered and carried on, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds.
of information alone should suffice in explaining the indispensable stature of
protests and protesters. Fortunately for the people living in the twenty first
century, the risks that were posed by the protests in the earlier times have
been significantly reduced by shifting the platform on which they are conducted.
No longer are people required to suffer in the scorching heat or shed blood on
the streets nor are they required to incur the expenses of traveling and other
The only major requirement for online protests is the will to lend
support to and stand for a cause. Massive amounts of time and energy do not
always need to be devoted to the cause one is supporting online. Sometimes a
simple hashtag and repost or retweet is enough to advocate for the cause and
lend support to it. Thus, more and more people have been able to stand up for
what they believe in.
Thus, the States need to be mindful of the privacy and the rights of the
protesters so that they do not get demoralised due to the undue restrictions
placed upon them. The efforts on the part of various media outlets, including
laymen should not be hindered or curbed, rather there should be a proper
procedure established to ensure that no authority can arbitrarily impose
restrictions on the footage, recordings or images so obtained.
of protests should be regulated and responsibly done so as to strengthen the
ethic of transparency. For this purpose, the States could deploy trained
professionals who are adept at providing valuable and imperative information,
which is pure and unadulterated. These experts should be allowed to be in
proximity of the protesters so as to ensure that they are accurately
representing that side of the story.
Also, in order to ensure that an
inculcation of the ethic of independent research is promulgated, states need to
take various steps in this direction. At the outset, the journalists and media
outlets must be free to report on any issue without requiring an accreditation
from the government. Besides this, full and necessary measures must be taken to
ensure that the safety of the protesters and media outlets is given the utmost
importance. This means that there should be safeguards against the illegal or
pre-emptive detention or arrest of journalists or protesters on the pretext that
they may cause harm or endanger the peace of the state.
Moreover, the officers who are entrusted with the responsibility of policing the
protest sites to maintain law and order need to be made aware of the actual
circumstances of a real protest site while they are trained for their job.
Mirroring a real life setting during training includes the role played by the
media, the protesters and the spectators who are present at a protest site.
will not only make them adept at handling these situations, but will also allow
them to simulate patience and restraint that are integral elements that an
officer should possess. Therefore, it is imperative that the state fosters
rather than hampers this spirit of participation, collaboration and mutual
cooperation that has been made possible virtually. Only then can an engaged and
effective democracy be established, which stands for what it preaches: active
and direct participation.
- Nesrine Malik, If you want to help Sudan, (January 16, 2019), available
at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/16/sudan-sudanese-people-killing-rape-revolution (Last
accessed March 9, 2021
- Drissel, David, “Rainbows of Resistance: LGBTQ Pride Parades Contesting
Space in Post-Conflict Belfast”, Culture Unbound, Volume 8, issue 3, 2016:
240–262, Linköping University Electronic Press, available at http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se (Last
accessed March 13, 2021).
- Defending peaceful assembly and association in the digital age, access
now, (July 2020), available at the website: http://www.accessnow.org/whyid/.pdf.
- Anne Sophie, Lockdowns Push Protest Movements online around the world,
(April 27, 2020), available at https://worldcrunch.com/coronavirus/lockdowns-push-protest-movements-online-around-the-world (Last
accessed March 1, 2021).
- Supra note 4, pp. 33-34
- Supra note 4, p. 33.
- Johana Bhuiyan, Law enforcement turns to facial recognition, (2020),
available at https://odihpn.org/magazine/continuum-suffering-violence- women-
girls- south- sudan -conflict/ (Last accessed March 14, 2021).
- Supra note 4, p. 25.
- Lydia Stone, A continuum of suffering: violence against women and girls
in the South Sudan conflict, ( 2019), available at https://odihpn.org/magazine/continuum-suffering-violence-women-girls-south-sudan-conflict/ (Last
accessed March 13, 2021).
- Supra note 6.
- Supra note 6.
- Barry R. Schaller, The First Amendment in the Digital Age: Protecting
Free Speech, (2009), Sacred Heart University Review: Vol. 25 : Iss. 1 , available
at: http://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/shureview/vol25/iss1/7 (Last accessed
February 26, 2021).
- UN High Commissioner for human rights raised concern over misuse of
sedition law in India, (February 27, 2021), Live Law, available at https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/un-high-commissioner-human-rights-misuse-sedition-law-curb-free-speech-170482 (Last
accessed March 13, 2021).
- The Constitution of India, 1959, Article 19
- Indian Penal Code, Section 124 A.
- Indian Penal Code, Section 120 B.
- Ramlila Maidan Incident v. Home secretary, Union of India and Others,
(2012) 5 SCC 1.
- Writ appeal 1042 of 2018, decided on 3rd September 2018.
- Supra note 4.
- AIR 1954 SC 92.
- Supra note 9.
- Supra note 4, p. 28.
Award Winning Article Is Written By:
- Ms.Divya Tiwari &
- Ms.Jasmine Mangat
Authentication No: MA34128251363-23-0521