SPEAKING on the CyBC morning radio show on Monday, the minister of justice, Emily Yiolitis, repeatedly referred to the people taking part in Saturday’s demonstration in Limassol as a ‘mob’. It is extremely rare for a politician to use such a word to describe a group of protesters, no matter how badly they behave, for fear of causing offence to them or the political correctness brigade.
Groups of demonstrators are always shown deference because they are exercising the democratic right to protest and make their view heard. Anyone that criticises their behaviour is automatically labelled an enemy of democracy and freedom of expression. As for the police, they are always in the wrong, routinely accused of exercising ‘excessive force’ no matter how unruly and violent the crowd was.
Last Saturday’s demonstration in Limassol proved the exception as the police were accused of not doing enough to quell the trouble that erupted as the protest was taken over by mask-wearing hooligans, who engaged in vandalism. The reason the police held back, according to the minister, was that there were parents with children taking part. If they had resorted to forceful tactics to impose law and order, they would have been attacked by everyone, a point also made by the minister.
Another point Yiolitis made was that gatherings of people, even if they were peaceful, were in violation of the decrees issued by the government. Limassol was in lockdown, gatherings of people were prohibited, as part of the measures to stop the spread of the virus so the demonstration was unlawful. As the minister pointed out, preventing the spread of the virus was the priority and there was no room for legalistic arguments about the democratic right to demonstrate.
In other words, every single person attending Saturday night’s gathering was breaking the law and could have been arrested for no other reason than being there – they did not have to cause damage to property or hurl objects at the police – and it was correct for this to be pointed out by the minister. There are times that the democratic right of big groups of people to protest publicly puts lives at risk and therefore has to be suspended. Cyprus’ democracy is not at risk from such a measure.
It is refreshing that there is a minister not afraid to speak in a forthright manner about demonstrators that turn into mobs and spell out that during the pandemic, the democratic right to protest publicly in numbers is not above protecting public health.