Freedom of peaceful assembly is sometimes difficult to separate from freedom of expression. Authors of communications to the Human Rights Committee that relate to protests often invoke both freedom of expression and of assembly, and the Human Rights Committee is willing to apply both rights.
The IACHR has stated that demonstrations are “a form of expression involving the exercise of related rights such as the right of citizens to assemble and demonstrate and the right to the free flow of opinions and information.”
The ECtHR also acknowledges that there is no clear dividing line between the two rights. It considers the guarantee of freedom of peaceful assembly a lex specialis, which must be interpreted in light of freedom of expression, which is the lex generalis:
The Court notes that … Article 10 of the Convention is to be regarded as a lex generalis in relation to Article 11 of the Convention, a lex specialis … On the other hand, notwithstanding its autonomous role and particular sphere of application, Article 11 of the Convention must … also be considered in the light of Article 10 of the Convention. The protection of personal opinions, secured by Article 10 of the Convention, is one of the objectives of freedom of peaceful assembly as enshrined in Article 11 of the Convention.
In practice, the ECtHR has tended to analyze certain forms of protest as exercises of freedom of expression rather than freedom of peaceful assembly. These include one-person protests, the establishment of protest camps, shouting slogans during a ceremony, hunger strikes, symbolic acts of protest (such as hanging out clothing representing the “dirty laundry of the nation”, pouring paint on a sculpture or burning flags and photos), displaying signs or political symbols, occupations of public buildings and direct actions intended to block activities that demonstrators disapprove of.