The COVID-19 Pandemic Keeps Proving Deadly to Liberty
This week, the British government announced limits on gatherings of people who don’t live together to groups of no more than six. Although the restriction seriously attacks freedom of assembly, it barely raised an eyebrow in an era of similar intrusions. How could it stand out when countries around the world are tightening the screws on speech, movement, business, and social connections in the name of public health?
As many people feared, the COVID-19 pandemic—or rather, the government response to it—is proving quite deadly to liberty. And too many people seem happy to go along.
“From Monday, we’re introducing the ‘Rule of 6’,” tweeted Matt Hancock, U.K. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. “If you meet socially in groups of more than 6, you will be dispersed, fined & possibly arrested by the police. If we work together in the national interest, we can defeat this unprecedented #coronavirus.”
The “Rule of 6” does allow for some exceptions, including “protests and political activities,” but only subject to government guidance that makes in-face meetings privileges under nanny’s scrutiny.
While authoritarian governments commonly criminalize gatherings of potential dissidents, meeting to oppose the current batch of seat-warmers in favor of your own lot is essential to the democratic experience in nominally free countries. It’s also a fundamental right to gather with friends, co-religionists, colleagues, and family as part of civil society—the sections of the world that matter, beyond the boundaries of government.
But Britain’s restrictions on assembly pale in comparison to the pre-crime arrests police in the Australian state of Victoria made of those who just advocated public demonstrations against government policy.
Zoe Buhler, a pregnant woman who had called on social media for peaceful protests against the state’s draconian pandemic lockdown, live-streamed her own arrest. Police hauled her off even after she offered to delete the offending post.
At least Buhler’s door is still on its hinges. Victoria police broke into James Bartolo’s home and tackled him to the floor. Again, his crime was openly advocating protest against government policy.
The protests proceeded anyway, in defiance of the law. Of course, attendees criticizing government policy were arrested.
These days, you don’t have to assemble or even advocate assembly to get arrested in France; you just h
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