Demonstrations might be banned during emergency in Latvia

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Following the extensive picket against the COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday, in which several violations of the self-same restrictions were recorded, the Riga City Council will call on the government to ban pickets and public demonstrations during the emergency, Latvian Television reported December 14.

Riga Mayor Mārtiņš Staķis said at a remote press conference on Monday, December 14, that the meeting of the council's Civil Protection Commission analyzed the situation at Saturday's picket, and the City Council will now call on the government to ban pickets in order to avoid a repeat of such situations.

Staķis said the restrictions imposed by the council in negotiations with picket organizers had an effect, because the organizers did not go to the Saeima as initially planned and shortened the duration of the picket.

He also said that the police had done its task well, had maintained their composure so that the situation would not escalate, and that there were no major clashes and aggression.

On the other hand, regarding future pickets, the real solution is to turn to the government and ask for a complete ban of pickets, because on Saturday it appeared that the organizers could not and did not want to limit the size of the demonstration, which brought many more people together than allowed, said the Mayor.

“They knew the risk, and deliberately went to the offenses [of restrictions], and we see it happening over the weekend which recorded the most deaths,” Staķis said.

The organizer of the event Arvīds Ulme, believes that the risk of infection with COVID-19 in Saturday's event was not high because the picket took place outside.

Epidemiologist Jurijs Perevoščikovs said that failure to distance is dangerous anyway, and that the possibility of spreading the virus is more likely when people speak loudly. “The louder people talk, the more the virus from a potentially infected person can spread. Therefore, in any event, even outside, there should be a strict respect for both distance and the number – 25 people,” Perevoščikovs said.

If the government does not decide to limit the pickets, the Riga municipality will try to find a balance between freedom of assembly as the basis of democracy and public health safety, said Staķis. He explained that the municipality could recommend to the organizers how and where to organize an event so that it does not gather more than the 25 people allowed.

But it would be more straightforward  if the government stipulated in the rules that pickets were banned during the state of emergency, Staķis said.

During the previous emergency at the end of March, the conduct of pickets, meetings and mass processions was banned entirely.


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