The notion of “assembly” covers a wide range of different types of gatherings, whether in public or private places, and whether static or moving. Examples of gatherings that international courts and mechanisms have held to be assemblies include demonstrations, pickets, processions, rallies, sits-in, roadblocks, gatherings or meetings in privately-owned places, occupations of buildings, and the public reading of press statements.
The UN Special Rapporteur has provided the following definition, which has also been embraced by the AComHPR’s Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa:
An “assembly” is an intentional and temporary gathering in a private or public space for a specific purpose. It therefore includes demonstrations, inside meetings, strikes, processions, rallies or even sits-in.
The ECtHR stresses that the term “assembly” should be broadly understood:
The right to freedom of assembly is a fundamental right in a democratic society … Thus, it should not be interpreted restrictively. As such this right covers both private meetings and meetings in public thoroughfares as well as static meetings and public processions; in addition, it can be exercised by individuals and those organising the assembly.
The OSCE-ODIHR Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly use similar wording, but add that an assembly must have a “common expressive purpose”:
For the purposes of the Guidelines, an assembly means the intentional and temporary presence of a number of individuals in a public place for a common expressive purpose.
This definition recognizes that, although particular forms of assembly may raise specific regulatory issues, all types of peaceful assembly – both static and moving assemblies, as well as those that take place on publicly or privately owned premises or in enclosed structures – deserve protection.