What does this mean for human rights defenders?
The right to freedom of association is the right for individuals to gather with any other individual or group to promote, pursue or defend a common interest. Freedom of peaceful assembly generally refers to the right to participate in political gatherings and demonstrations, while freedom of association generally refers to the right to be part of an organisation or political party. This also serves as an important protection for unions and other labour organisations.
While the internet has enabled human rights defenders to gather easier, share knowledge more efficiently and report news faster, it has also exposed these same groups to surveillance by authoritarian states. Human rights defenders on the internet require strong protections for the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
However, recent studies have shown that authoritarian states are less concerned with restricting unwanted association, but prefer instead to harass individual human rights defenders. This is typically done through the police or intelligence agencies, and is made possible by monitoring the online activities of human rights organisations.
Closely related to ensuring the right to freedom of association is anonymity and circumvention tools. This is especially important for suppressed groups in authoritarian societies.