Disinfo: Western countries punish unsanctioned rallies with years in prison


Citizens in Western countries face harsh penalties for organising or taking part in unsanctioned protests. France punishes participation in such protests with up to six months in prison, or up to one year for organising them. In Sweden, organisers get up to four years in prison, other participants face up to two years. In Finland, the maximum prison term is three years. New Zealand punishes illegal assembly with up one year in prison and mass disturbances with up to two years. In the United Kingdom, which constantly tells Russia how it must act, mass disturbances involving twelve or more people can result in prison terms of up to 10 years.

Those who accuse Russian law enforcement of undue violence against protesters should keep the above in mind.


Recurring pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative portraying Russia as more democratic than Western states.

The claim deliberately confounds, on the one hand, legal restrictions on violent public behaviour in some Western states and, on the other, the quasi-legal concept of "unsanctioned rally" which the Russian state routinely invokes as an excuse to crack down on peaceful protests. The arbitrary use of this provision runs contrary to international judicial precedent (see pp. 6-18), reports and opinions issued by international bodies (e.g. UN Human Rights Council pp. 7-13; Venice Commission pp. 18-26; OSCE pp. 15-21), and Russia's own constitution (Art. 31).

None of the countries mentioned in the claim have legislation stipulating prison time for peaceful protesters. In France, a term of up to six months can only be given to repeat violent offenders who ignore a prohibition to attend public demonstrations; in Sweden, four years is the maximum term for individuals found "demonstrating intent to use concerted violence against a public authority [...] and do not disperse at the command of a public authority" (Swedish Criminal Code, Chapter 16, Section 1, emphasis added); in Finland, only those found guilty of "public incitement to an offence" face up to two years in prison (Finnish Criminal Code, Chapter 17, Section 1), not three; in New Zealand, two years' imprisonment is the maximum sentence given specifically to rioters, meaning those who "acting together, are using violence against persons or property to the alarm of persons in the neighbourhood of that group" (Crimes Act 1961, Section 87); in the UK, a 10-year prison sentence is reserved for those convicted of rioting, and a five-year term for perpetrators of violent disorders (Public Order Act 1986, Sections 1 and 2).


  • Reported in: Issue 229
  • DATE OF PUBLICATION: 28/01/2021
  • Language/target audience: Russian
  • Country: New Zealand, UK, Russia, Finland, Sweden, France
  • Keywords: Western values, Protest, Russian superiority


Cases in the EUvsDisinfo database focus on messages in the international information space that are identified as providing a partial, distorted, or false depiction of reality and spread key pro-Kremlin messages. This does not necessarily imply, however, that a given outlet is linked to the Kremlin or editorially pro-Kremlin, or that it has intentionally sought to disinform. EUvsDisinfo publications do not represent an official EU position, as the information and opinions expressed are based on media reporting and analysis of the East Stratcom Task Force.

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