Self-isolation and right of association: expert’s comment

Political expert Karina Gorbachyova on online protests and gatherings of people during the pandemic

During the declared high alert regime, the game “no money, but you stay strong” is dangerous. While online protests and events in North Ossetia can become the first warning, thinks political expert and our columnist Karina Gorbachyova. In a column for Realnoe Vremya, she explains how people come together in self-isolation thanks to the Net and what legislation says about it.

The topic of self-isolation hasn’t calmed down. Not everybody understands yet what is going on in the country, what a regime was declared, what rights citizens have and which of them work in the current conditions. Many have put up with the situation and hope to wait out the quarantine at home taking advantage of telecommuting, education and entertainment.

However, a big part of the population is divested of financial reserves or a possibility of working from home, this is why they keep going outside “at their own risk” looking for a way to make money. The most conscious ones are showing miracles of civil responsibility by massively purchasing the Constitution, studying Consultant thoroughly all day long not to simply go out but to go out and know the Law. How are people defending their rights? Let’s consider it in detail.

Photo: Ilya Repin
The first week of almost completely closed retailing and public catering already showed that such a regime might be fatal for many citizens

Self-organisation as aid

Since the first days of declaration of a high alert in different regions, the people was in an information trap. It was said on TV screens and on the Internet that it was dangerous to go outside, also because “you will immediately be fined”. Most mass media said about new restrictive measures only and created an illusion that self-isolation could really help the coronavirus problem and, most importantly, quickly.

However, the first week of almost completely closed retailing and public catering already showed that such a regime might be fatal for many citizens. Because despite the president’s petitions to save workers’ salaries during the “holiday”, a lot of people anyway turned out without money to live on. It was hardly easier for employers themselves — sole traders massively announced closure, representatives of not only macro- and small- but also medium-sized businesses faced bankruptcy. Those who had no money or faced a threat of such a situation asked a question: “What to do if we can’t go out while we want to eat? What to do during the information vacuum?” Come together. And the Internet became a platform.

Jurists and advocates who united around Agora International Human Rights Group, which hasn’t left the people in trouble, were first to give a speech. Agora quickly created a legal support team where jurists give consultations and lead cases in the court. Apologia of Protest — another project of Agora group — also helps citizens. Then speeches of Moscow State Duma deputy Pavel Tarasov and Senator from Irkutsk Oblast Vyacheslav Markhayev who advocated citizens’ rights during self-isolation spread on social media then. More often cases of completing reports on law-obedient citizens and further termination of cases made the population want to study their rights. And like answering this question United Legal Partnership published an explanatory note in case a report is completed that well-informed people took each time they went outside.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
More often cases of completing reports against law-obedient citizens and further termination of cases made the population want to study their rights

But bigger consolidation of civil society arose after the introduction of digital passes. This measure made many open the Constitution and laws and learn that at least the digital pass violated their right to choose an alternative paper variant according to Article 9 Federal Law-152 On Protection of Personal Data and as maximum it violated their right to privacy and voluntary transmission of personal data according to Articles 23 and 24 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. While the introduction of digital pass regimes in several regions at once gave people from different parts of Russia a reason to come together to exchange experience in defending their rights.

Moreover, the ways of joint actions have become widespread: it is the creation of group chats in social networks depending on the territory or not, live transmissions with answers to the most important questions and creation of petitions against the “digital concentration camp” and removal of officials from their posts due to the measures taken. And we already wrote that some activists in different regions filed claims to the court to recognise some of the measures taken illegal.

Online and offline protest

Economists, political experts, some politicians have begun talking about a probable rise in the discontent among the population since the introduction of compulsory self-isolation. When self-isolation was one’s own business, the citizens could go to work and take measures that would restrict the spread of the virus themselves (for instance, businesses introduced know-how — contactless delivery or visit to showrooms by appointment).

However, as much as general compulsory self-isolation tried to be explained as citizens’ lack of discipline, the case is not only their unconscious desire to have a barbecue. The online flash mob where citizens post their photos with a note “feed my children and I will stay home” that began became illustrative in this case. This phrase demonstrates that people need the right to move not because of their light-hearted attitude to health.

Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov
However, as much as general compulsory self-isolation tried to be explained as citizens’ lack of discipline, the case is not only their unconscious desire to have a barbecue

Many citizens don’t have a choice — to stay home or not. People have to feed themselves and their families, but the aid from the state in Russia doesn’t leave any illusions: one will have to hope for oneself. In this respect, the online demonstration that took place across the country on 20 April became quite a logical expression of public opinion. Somebody from Kazan joked having left a geotag in Lake Kaban with a note: “It seems that people will finally find treasure in this lake out of hunger”. One could see categorical statements in the Zhirinovsky style in Ufa next to the House of Government “Enough to tolerate it”. While the online protest in Moscow could promote Yandex.

Is an online rally a self-sufficient occurrence or is it a warning about real rallies? A gathering of 1,500 citizens in North Ossetia on the same day showed that the game “no money, but you stay strong” is dangerous. The people in Vladikavkaz required to not only cancel self-isolation and introduce real supporting measures for the population during this tough period but also remove the regional leader. Hunger can not only make citizens go websites about law like Consultant and Garant but also make them go out to such campaigns.

Considering the severity of the economic state, such a variant of the turn of events is becoming quite possible. But does Russian society need it? Should they risk their economy and citizens’ lives? Or are there anyway alternatives? Like, for instance, it is done in Germany where one can walk, run, ride a bicycle, go about one’s business but with a proviso — no more than two people or with family members and, of course, at a distance.

By Karina Gorbachyova
BashkortostanTatarstan