The German Constitutional Court on Thursday upheld citizens’ right to hold political protests after a group of activists in the state of Hesse petitioned the court with a document titled “Strengthen health instead of weakening fundamental rights – protection against viruses, not against humans.” The protesters hoped that the court would allow them to gather without legal restriction in the German city of Giessen despite ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns. The court’s decision allows demonstrators to assemble, but requires that they abide by social distancing practices.
“The ordinance of the Hessian state government to combat the coronavirus does not contain a general ban on outdoor gatherings for more than two people who do not belong to the same household,” said a court press release [German] regarding the case. “Freedom of association [is] protected by fundamental rights.”
Article 8 of the German constitution states “all Germans shall have the right to assemble peacefully and unarmed without prior notification or permission,” but adds that “in the case of outdoor assemblies, this right may be restricted by or pursuant to a law.” The Constitutional Court’s judgement cited this article to uphold freedom of assembly while requiring all protesters to adhere to social distancing.
The protest organizers have promised to maintain social distancing practices, but the ruling has fallen short of their ambitions of unrestricted freedom of assembly. Germany has had 130,400 confirmed COVID-19 cases with only 3,600 deaths, a mortality rate lower than most of Western Europe.
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