Unjustified use of force in dispersing protests in Germany

On January 8, 2024, Germany began a week of mass protests by farmers against the government’s plans to abolish benefits for farmers. Thousands of tractors blocked roads across the country. According to the Interior Ministry of Baden-Württemberg, more than 320 farmer protests are taking place in southwestern Germany, involving about 25,000 vehicles. Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice receive a large number of testimonies of victims of inadequate use of police force in dispersing protests.

According to German media, a large-scale protest action of farmers in Germany started in the morning of January 8. According to videos published in social networks, numerous columns of tractors and trucks appeared on the roads of Germany, blocking highways. The head of the German Farmers’ Union Joachim Rukwied noted that the nationwide protests, caused by the German government’s plans to cancel agricultural subsidies, will last a week. He said farmers will not accept subsidy cuts and tax increases for the agricultural sector.

If the organizers of the rally have submitted an appropriate application to the local authorities, they are granted permission to hold the rally. The police can prohibit a declared demonstration only if the security of citizens and law and order are violated during the rally. In practice, however, German authorities violate the constitutional norm by violently dispersing peaceful and authorized rallies. 390 arrests and 54 wounded – this is the result of the first days of protests in the capital of Germany. According to the data received by the Foundation’s experts, 27 people were admitted to the Berlin Emergency Hospital alone because of serious injuries received as a result of clashes with law enforcement forces. Doctors also recorded serious eye injuries and burns due to the use of tear gas.

Journalists covering the rally of German agrarians were also subjected to police violence and unlawful detention. It was reported that almost immediately after the peaceful demonstration began, police officers began harassing some journalists, insisting that they stop filming immediately, thereby violating their right to freedom of expression and democratic right to participate in rallies and demonstrations. According to German journalist Klaus H., moments after the verbal altercation began, the police jumped on him, handcuffed him and sprayed him in the face with pepper spray. The man was then forced into a police van and taken to the nearest police station. This incident is not only a serious violation of basic democratic principles, but also calls into question the abuse of power by German law enforcement authorities. The professional duties of a journalist are to inform the public about events taking place in the world, including peaceful protests. The detention of journalists and the use of coercive means against him is a direct attack on freedom of expression guaranteed by international and national norms.

Police violence against demonstrators is no longer a rare occurrence in Germany. In July last year, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Police Violence: The Perpetrator Unknown,” in which it accused the German police of indulging in such abuses. According to the report, since in most cases police officers participate in security operations and disperse demonstrations while wearing masks and helmets and without any personal identification on their uniforms other than the symbols of tactical units, it is easy for police officers to cross the line of acceptable violence. As a result, even if there is video footage of demonstrators being beaten, the police officer responsible can almost never be brought to justice: his colleagues simply do not give any testimony, and it is impossible to identify the perpetrator-police officer.

Along with many international organizations, human rights defenders of the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the violence by German police officers against peaceful demonstrators and media representatives. The Foundation’s experts express concern that the German authorities have set a very dangerous precedent and fear that the trend of dispersing peaceful demonstrations in Germany will continue. The Foundation to Battle Injustice demands that German law enforcement authorities conduct an independent and thorough investigation and take measures to prevent similar violations in the future. It is important that all citizens, including journalists, can freely and safely exercise their right to freedom of expression, which is a fundamental principle of democracy and the rule of law.