In countering Western criticism of Russia's massive detentions of peaceful demonstrators, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov selectively cited Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Russia has acceded.
Article 21 establishes that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized” and “[N]o restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right” except for “those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Lavrov neglected to include the phrases “in conformity with law” and “which are necessary in a democratic society” that provide the context for how limitations on rights should be made by states.
When the ICCPR was drafted, the concept of "public order" in Art. 21 was qualified with the phrase “in a democratic society” to underscore the notion that such order maintained by police also involves respect for human rights. The UN Commission on Human Rights in 1984 adopted the Siracusa Principles which establish that “public order” means that police are subject to parliament, courts and other independent bodies in the exercise of their power.
The international non-governmental group Human Rights Watch has pointed out that Russia’s routine practices on citizens’ assembly “stray far” from its obligations under ICCPR because officials arbitrarily deny permits, impose large fines on violators of the law, and sentence those found guilty of multiple unauthorized pickets to heavy terms of imprisonment.
Lavrov also claimed that the West had a double standard in criticizing only Russia, citing Germany and the Netherlands where some towns recently banned demonstrations by Turkish immigrants. The comparison is not apt, as the protests in the European countries involved a ban in some towns on entry to these countries by Turkish officials who were attempting to rally the Turkish diaspora on behalf of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in advance of a referendum to expand his powers, and were a response to the likelihood of mass protest against Erdogan. In Berlin, a peaceful rally of 30,000 Kurdish supporters demonstrated against the referendum on March 18.
By contrast, the non-violent protests in Russia were not as large in any one city, did not involve foreigners, were not tied to any referendum and were focused on the more general issue of government corruption.
Lavrov also invoked the arrest of RT journalists in the United States in January this year, failing to note the context involved arrests by U.S. police of hundreds of demonstrators during President Donald Trump’s inauguration after some protesters smashed windows of stores and lit a limousine on fire. Nevertheless, some American press freedom groups condemned the reporters' detentions.