1. Before you go
Careful preparation is worth its weight in gold. It will help you make sure your part in the demonstration is as safe and effective as possible.
Make informed decisions
Know your rights
There are a number of rights that you exercise when taking the part in protests. But rules and regulations on protest vary from country to country so make sure you find out what they are and how existing restrictions might affect your participation in a particular protest.
Find out about the background to the protest and be clear about what type of protest it is
Make sure you know who is organising it, what cause they are defending and what type of actions they plan to do during the protest. Think about the risks, opportunities and legal implications of the protest. Decide what you think and what you feel comfortable doing.
Keep a cool head
However passionately you feel about the cause, it’s crucial that you are in the right state of mind in the planning stage of your participation. Make sure you weigh up the risks – don’t exaggerate or minimise them.
Choose the best approach
Be mindful that many more restrictions are permitted on violent protests. Violence won’t help you to achieve your goals. Imagination, creativity and humour can be far more effective in protests.
Make a plan of action with your friends.
And make sure everyone agrees to stick to it – before, during and after the protests. Make a plan B, too, just in case something goes wrong and you have to change.
Check what you bring
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Do not take things you won’t need and avoid bringing anything that could put you or those around you in danger, or give the police an excuse to detain you on suspicion of intent to commit a crime.
Find out about any civil society and human rights groups or networks that could help you
Especially with plans or support if something goes wrong.
Protect your privacy
Don’t make it easy for snoopers
In today’s world, it’s essential to protect your privacy, online and offline. And it’s not just about you: if you protect your own privacy, it will also help protect your friends’ privacy. Be aware that snoopers look for specific key words on social media that might suggest you’re participating in a protest.
Be aware of the implications of covering your face or disguising your identity
Some demonstrators wear face paint, glasses, hoods or masks to conceal their identity. But others use these to carry out criminal acts and discredit the protest. Be aware of the implications of disguising yourself, as it might be illegal in your country.
Strike the right balance.
It is essential to protect your privacy. But be aware that if you or others run into trouble, it is crucial that you can be identified so that the appropriate safety and solidarity networks can help you.
Keep in touch
Stay in contact with someone who is not at the protest. Organise times to check in and agree what you’ll do if something goes wrong. If necessary, do this through civil society and human rights groups.
Know whom to contact
Make a list of people and organisations you can contact in case of emergency. Keep the list on your mobile and have a written copy too, in case you lose your phone or run out of charge or credit.
Weigh up the risks of using a mobile
Having a mobile device with you can help you and others stay safe. But depending on your privacy settings and the type of phone, it can also give away information about your identity, whereabouts, plans and friends. Decide what’s best for you.
Have alternative ways of staying in touch
Don’t rely exclusively on your mobile device: the signal may get blocked, jammed or monitored. Agree check-in times and meeting points with your friends in advance.
Encrypt your mobile
For iPhone: ‘Settings’, ‘General’, ‘ Touch ID & Passcode’. Follow the prompts to create a passcode. When you’ve finished, check it says ‘Data protection is enabled’.
For Android: ‘Settings’, ‘Security’, ‘Encrypt device’.
If you want to secure your communications use encrypted channels
This isn’t as hard as it might seem. Try: Emails: Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). Chats: Off the Record (OTR). Mobiles: TextSecure or ChatSecure. If possible, talk face-to-face. Be aware of possible legal implications in your country for use of encryption and that this might provoke suspicion amongst law enforcement authorities.
Only take what you can afford to lose
Before the protest, back up your phone and delete any information you don’t need to have with you. You can always reload the data when you get back from the protest.
2. At the protest
They say knowledge is power. Make sure you know how to keep yourself and other people safe – and what to do if things go wrong.
Stay safe when filming and monitoring abuses
Make sure you are in a safe place before you start filming
Be aware of what´s happening around you, as well as what you are recording. Filming may draw the attention of demonstrators, police and bystanders.
Don’t assume that all protesters want to be photographed/ filmed
Some people want to protect their identity. They may not want to be shown on social networks. Whenever possible, ask for their permission. This however does not apply to the police. It is your right to film interactions between citizens and police in a protest.
Be aware of the implications of filming police abuses or violence
In some situations police officers may react negatively to being filmed. Protect the material before leaving the demonstration. Hide it, encrypt it, copy or share it in case the police try to delete or confiscate it. There are many applications for mobile devices that allow you to do it all safely.
Be prepared in case things go wrong
Plan what to do in case of violent clashes, mass arrests or stampedes:
If things get out of hand follow the plan you agreed beforehand. Do things systematically: deal with the situation, get to a safe place – leave calmly, and check in with your safety network.
Find out about the equipment that might be used.
Police in different countries take different approaches to crowd control during demonstrations. It’s worth finding out what you might come across so you can be prepared.
Learn how to deal with tear gas.
This causes irritation, especially to eyes and skin. Move upwind, breathe slowly and avoid touching the affected part. Research and carry a soothing liquid. Be careful if you have a medical condition.
Be careful around police horses and dogs.
Keep your distance from police dogs and police horses. Even if they are not set against protestors, they tend to be unpredictable. They have been known to kick, bite and shove.
Watch out for water cannons and rubber bullets.
Water cannons can be turned and change direction very fast and unexpectedly. Rubber bullets are sometimes used directly against protesters and may cause injuries. If you think you are in range of such weapons be extra careful.
Know your rights if you are arrested.
Don’t resist arrest. Stay calm and in control of your words, body language and emotions. Ask about the charges and where you are being taken. Demand immediate medical attention if injured. If possible, try to ensure other protesters know your name and age before you are detained. When arrested, you should have the right to remain silent. You may simply say, “I am going to remain silent and would like a lawyer.
Get as much information as possible if the police use excessive force.
Collect relevant information but consider your safety first and do this from a safe place. Try to protect the privacy of victims, and aim to gather detailed information about the attacker (i.e. appearance, name tag, rank), the time and location, and the incident.
Be careful about what you share.
If things get out of hand, the situation could get hectic. Avoid contributing to the spread of rumours or false information on social media. Only share information you have been able to confirm.
Take care of yourself and the people around you
Be aware of the particular needs of fellow demonstrators.
The streets belong to everyone, and children, older people and people with disabilities have an equal right to take part. Everyone deserves your support and respect.
Pay careful attention to the police presence.
Be aware of their manoeuvres, their equipment and their attitudes. This will help you anticipate any possible dangers and avoid surprises if things get difficult.
Remember that the police may be in plain clothes.
In some countries, certain police officers wear civilian clothes. This is sometimes done so they can merge with protesters without being distinguishable.
It isn’t just about the demonstration itself: it’s equally important to get yourself back home and share your experience as safely as possible.
Get back safely
Be prepared that you might be stopped and searched by the police
It is safer to leave the protest in groups, as this is often the time when arbitrary arrests take place. Make sure someone knows when you leave and when you are safely home.
Be prepared to leave the protest safely
Make sure there are safe routes to leave the protest. Sometimes protests entail roadblocks and public transport might be not available.
Share your story
Protect the privacy of participants and bystanders.
Before sharing photos and film you’ve taken, use tools, such as Obscuracam, that allow you to blur images if you want to protect the identity of others.
Protect your own privacy.
When uploading and sharing material, browse anonymously using the Tor network or VPN services. Although this will slow your connection, it will help you hide your location and access blocked websites. Be aware that in some countries the authorities can track the use of such services and this can increase the suspicion of law enforcement agencies.
Delete revealing information before sharing.
When you take a picture or make a video, your digital camera/phone will attach information (i.e. time, location, device type) that could reveal your identity. Use applications such as ObscuraCam to erase this data.
Get technical and legal advice.
If you are concerned about the safety and legal implications of sharing information you’ve gathered, get expert advice and support from lawyers and human rights organisations.
Pursuing justice for injury, arbitrary arrest or other violations
Nobody deserves to be mistreated, so if you’ve been treated unjustly consider complaining to the relevant authorities or civil society groups. Get legal advice and support from local human rights groups before doing so.
Make the biggest splash with your story.
If you want to publicise your involvement in the protest or get the story of the protest out more widely, post the information you’ve gathered on as many social media platforms as possible, including your own blog or website. However, you should firstly assess the sort of attention you want to have, including if this can bring negative attention to you from other members of the public or the authorities.
Speak out against censorship.
If you think social media networks are deleting posts or blocking users, ask them to explain if this is the case and demand answers from them. Many will have buttons through which you can submit questions or complaints