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Usually, citizens carry out peaceful protests by means of waving banners or having marches. But what if they decide to block off a major road by staging a sit-in protest in a city (as happened in Shaheen Bagh, Delhi), in order to catch the attention of the government and have their voices heard?

On the one hand, you have the right of the citizens to peacefully protest, but on the other hand, they are causing a civil disruption in the working of the city for an extended period of time (which is the point of staging a protest there). Are there any explicit restrictions or precedents set by any law anywhere in the world about this?

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    The short answer is "yes" there are many such laws, mostly in the form of case law in common law countries.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 15 at 0:47
  • In general, the right to peaceful protest doesn't allow the protesters to violate laws against public nuisances, disorderly conduct, etc.
    – Barmar
    Jan 15 at 7:12
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    @Barmar, that depends. A protest march may be free from some traffic regulations.
    – o.m.
    Jan 15 at 10:44
  • @o.m. I think that you would have to get pre-authorization and they'll temporarily adjust traffic to accomodate it. You can't just decide to block traffic.
    – Barmar
    Jan 15 at 18:17
  • @Barmar, that very much depends on the jurisdictions. Where I live, if a large crowd spontaneously decides to protest, that's generally permitted.
    – o.m.
    Jan 15 at 18:34

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The German constitution says

Article 8 (translated)
All Germans have the right to assemble, without notification or permission, peacefully and unarmed.
For assemblies in the open this may be restricted by law or based on a law.

This leads to the various states passing laws on protests in the open. ("Under open skies," that is not in an enclosed building. It seems the point is that an enclosed protest within a building or the like is less likely to turn into an uncontrolled riot, hence less legally restricted.) These restrictions must not generally ban demonstrations, but they can balance the right to protest against the rights of other people (e.g. motorists who want to get through). Notably, right now the size of demonstrations is limited in some states by Corona restrictions.

Generally speaking, a demonstration may be pre-planned or spontaneous. If it is pre-planned, it must be coordinated with the police. The organizers give an estimate of the participants and their planned location or route. The police makes their own estimate and compares that to the route. 10 people would be asked to stay on the sidewalk rather than blocking a major intersection, 10,000 people can spill onto the street. When the organizers disagree with restrictions placed by the police, they can go to the courts for an injunction.

The details include things like having trucks with a public address systems, building a speakers' platform, etc. When those are too extensive in relation to the number of protesters, the situation might shade into special use permits for public sidewalks. Two or three people can get permission for a booth on the street corner, but this will be more restrictive than a demonstration as to the time and place (and there is a fee).

When a spontaneous demonstration forms, the organizers should inform the police so that appropriate traffic control measures can be taken. This is a bit problematic, how do you determine the organizer of a spontaneous assembly? Will the contact persons be held to the responsibilities of the organizer of a pre-planned assembly if the assembly is held by the authorities to be not spontaneous after all?

The laws extend this right from all Germans to all people in Germany, but those only have their rights granted by law, rather than by the constitution (unless it is a state constitution, e.g. in Bavaria).

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  • I haven't checked the original, but I suspect that "in public" is a better translation than "in the open."
    – phoog
    Jan 15 at 9:35
  • @phoog, "under open skies" as opposed to some building.
    – o.m.
    Jan 15 at 10:42
  • So that includes a protest organized, e.g., on privately-owned land?
    – phoog
    Jan 15 at 12:18
  • @phoog, that's where precedent gets complicated. There was a case about protests on the Frankfurt airport, a stock company mostly owned by a state and a city. This was allowed by the supreme court. But generally, you cannot just protest in someone's living room without the permission of the owner. But Art. 8 makes it difficult for the government to limit attendance. (When one reads the German Grundgesetz, one has to look at the liberties as a whole to interpret them. Any one is not meant to override all others, in this case the protection of property rights or the protection of the home.)
    – o.m.
    Jan 15 at 14:54
  • I was imagining a private outdoor space where the protest is organized by the owner, or at least with the owner's permission.
    – phoog
    Jan 15 at 15:05

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