Research event

Delegitimising Vulnerability as a Means of Protest: A Critical Analysis of Anti-Protest Laws

A presentation by Samira Akbarian, Research assistant at the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main. This event is part of the Fundamental Rights Research Colloquium under the cluster "Human Rights in the Climate Crisis" hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights.

The paper delves into the increasing global challenges faced by climate activists in exercising their right to freedom of assembly. The central focus is to demonstrate that these restrictive measures specifically target forms of protest that involve activists willingly exposing their own vulnerability. Vulnerability, in this context, refers to the exposure to the possibility of physical or emotional harm. Modes of protest utilising vulnerability, such as sit-ins, public transport and road blockades, are increasingly labeled as "disruptive" and subsequently deemed illegal. This paper argues that such categorisation is unjustified, as these forms of protest, though disruptive, align with the principles of the rule of law and democracy by emphasising the equality of all individuals.

The argument unfolds in four parts. Part I critically examines conventional conceptualisations of nonviolent protest and passive resistance within the framework of "civil disobedience." It challenges the notion that disobedience, even when "civil," may not be disruptive and questions the unique significance of nonviolence. Part II explores recent examples of legislative responses in the US and UK that reclassify disruptive protests as illegal, showcasing how states can use their legislative power to delegitimise certain modes of protest. Part III draws on a key ruling in German jurisdiction regarding the term Gewalt (violence/force) to illustrate how legal definitions can criminalize sit-ins as forms of violent coercion. Finally, Part IV engages with Judith Butler's work on the force of nonviolence to analyse and criticise both new legislation and judicial decisions on protest forms that entail putting the body on the line.

By contextualising vulnerable protests within the framework of state power, this paper argues that exposing one's body in protest, even in the face of state violence, constitutes an assertive form of nonviolence. The concluding section seeks to understand the democratic potential inherent in these nonviolent measures, differentiating them from instrumental mute violence and shedding light on the transformative power that disruptive protests may wield within the democratic sphere.

Dr. Samira Akbarian is a research assistant at the Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main (Public Law and Legal Philosophy). Her PhD thesis on “Civil disobedience as constitutional interpretation” (“Ziviler Ungehorsam als Verfassungsinterpretation”, Mohr Siebeck 2023) won the Merkur-Prize for outstanding doctoral theses 2022, the Werner-Pünder-Prize 2023 and the Deutscher Studienpreis 2023. From September 2021 until December 2021, she was a visiting scholar at Columbia Law School, New York City. Her PhD was funded from 2019–2022 by the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, following a study scholarship from 2012 until 2015. From 2009 to 2013, Samira undertook a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn; and studied law at the University of Bonn and Cologne from 2010 until 2015 where she did her First State Exam. She undertook her legal traineeship in Cologne (Referendariat) from 2015 until 2017 (Second State Exam). She is an Editor at Kritische Justiz and Associate Editor at Verfassungsblog.

Prior registration is required. Registered attendees will receive the dial-in details as well as a draft paper, on which the presentation is based, via e-mail prior to the event.