Italians find ways to peacefully assemble despite COVID-19 pandemic

Peaceful Assembly

Creative mobilisation by the Sardines

The Italian government banned public gatherings as part of emergency measures against the coronavirus (COVID-19), which effectively makes peaceful assemblies impossible. Nevertheless, grassroots movement the Sardines found a way to mobilise without their usual mass gatherings. As reported previously on the Monitor, the movement called on citizens to mobilise against the populist messages and rhetoric of right-wing leader Matteo Salvini (League Party) and his boastful claim that his Lega supporters would fill Italy’s squares. It was successful in mobilising over 12,000 people in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore and later the gatherings spread to other cities.

In early May 2020, a single potted basil plant appeared in Bologna’s main square next to a cardboard sign with two hashtags: #6000SARDINE and #FOTOSINTESI. The hashtags referred to a campaign started by the Sardines to sell 6,000 begonias and aromatic herbs to the citizens of Bologna in order to raise money for local culture and artistry such as cinemas and theatres. This time the Sardines filled the Piazza Maggiore with these seedlings. On their website, the Sardines called the campaign a success, having thus far raised about 60,000 Euros for culture in Bologna.

Protests over closure of businesses during lockdown

In various Italian cities shopkeepers and business owners defied lockdown measures and took to the streets to protest the government’s decision not to let them open their businesses yet, as Italy transitions out of its lockdown. Their call was answered as hairdressers, cafes, gyms and many other businesses will open their doors again from 18th May 2020. As the lockdown measures are slowly being lifted, public gatherings such as demonstrations will be allowed again as of 18th May 2020 provided that participants remain in one location and practise social distancing.


According to Reporters Without Borders (RSFLa Repubblica journalist Salvo Palazzolo has been subject to hate messages on social networks after his report on 8th April 2020, which detailed how the brother of an imprisoned Mafia boss in the Palermo region, southern Italy, was distributing food parcels during the pandemic to regain control of territories. After the report was written Palazzolo was targeted on social media with messages like “disgusting journalist” and “journalists are worse than the coronavirus.”

In a separate incident, on 4th May 2020 unknown attackers opened fire on the house of journalist Mario De Michele in southern Italy while he and his family were at home. De Michele is an editor atthe Campania Notizie news website, who extensively writes about organised crime in his region. Police are investigating the attack. This is not the first time that the editor has been attacked. In November 2019 he survived a shooting attempt and was placed under police protection. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the attack:

"Italian authorities must maximise their efforts to prevent such attacks and ensure that De Michele can do his work without fearing that he is putting his life or his family at risk,”- Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York.