Freedom of assembly includes the right to choose the manner in which the assembly is organized. The ECtHR has stated:
The case of Women on Waves and Others v. Portugal arose from a decision to deny the vessel Borndiep entry to Portuguese territorial waters. The applicant associations had chartered this vessel for use in a campaign for the decriminalization of abortion, and planned to hold meetings on sexual and reproductive health and rights on board. The Portuguese authorities sent a warship to ensure the vessel would not enter port.
Before the ECtHR, Portugal argued that the applicants had not been prevented from expressing themselves, as they could have organized their meetings on land. The European Court, however, considered that the denial of permission to use the vessel restricted the applicants’ rights, as the manner of spreading their ideas was important for them:
The Court acknowledged the Portuguese authorities’ fear that the vessel was carrying medications which might be used to perform unlawful abortions, but considered they could have reached their objective through less restrictive measures, such as seizing the medications, instead of denying the Borndiep entry and deploying a warship against this civilian vessel.
In some instances, limitations on the manner of assemblies – such as the use of sound-amplification equipment – may be justifiable. The UN Special Rapporteur, the OSCE-ODIHR Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and the AComHPR’s Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa emphasize that any such restrictions must meet the tests of necessity and proportionality (see Assembly Section 4.4).