Excessive force, protest violence mar G20 demonstrations

Peaceful Assembly

Leaders of the world's largest economies were greeted by both peaceful and violent protests during the G20 Summit in Hamburg in early July 2017. A large variety of German and international activists and political groups gathered in Hamburg to demonstrate their opposition to the G20 leaders and the economic, social and environmental damage being done to the world under their watch. While most of the estimated 100,000 protesters were peaceful, a minority of anti-capitalism activists, including the Black Block group, destroyed property, burned cars and looted shops. Prior to the summit, German police had established a tight cordon around the Summit venue, restricting the areas in which protesters could gather and dismantling some protest camps ahead of the meeting.

Clashes and running battles between police and protesters occurred repeatedly in the run-up to and during the Summit on 6th and 7th July. 

A police spokesperson said that there were an estimated 1,500 rioters engaged in destruction and violence, out of the 100,000 protesters estimated to have been in Hamburg for the G20. Police used water cannon, tear gas and batons to try to disperse protesters. Some media reports estimated that 400 arrests were made, while 500 police officers were injured by bottles, rocks and fireworks.

A detailed report by Speigel Online described police using excessive force during a tense "Welcome to Hell" march staged on the eve of the Summit, 6th July. A key flash point was the wearing of masks by protesters. Despite the fact that most protesters at the head of the march complied with police requests to show their faces, squads of police officers still raided the back of the protest and refused to let it proceed along the intended route. As tensions grew, aggression increased on both sides, with police using batons, pepper spray and water cannon. The report describes how police "repeatedly and violently" pulled people out of the crowd. 

In contrast, a large march to mark the end of the Summit on 8th July took place peacefully and without police interference.

Germany had witnessed a number of tense protests unconnected to the G20 in the weeks ahead of the Summit. In June 2017, hundreds of members of the self-proclaimed "Identitarian Movement" marched through the streets of Berlin under a banner reading "Future for Europe - for the defense of our identity, culture and way of life". The Identitarian Movement was described by Germany's justice minister as "an extreme, radical and racist minority". The marchers were met by a larger number of counter-demonstrators who disputed the group's anti-migrant stance. On the same day, a peace march organised by German Muslim groups to condemn terrorism and violence in the name of Islam was held in Cologne. The march, organised by Islamic scholar Lamya Kaddor and peace activist Tarek Mohamad, was preceded by a heated debate when Germany's biggest Islamic association, the Turkish-Islamic Union, refused to take part. A few weeks earlier, residents of Cologne united against the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. With events beginning at 7 am and carrying on into the night, protesters made it clear that AfD, which espouses a right-wing nationalist ideology, would not be easily welcomed in their city.