Far-right protest against lockdown restrictions; activists protest in creative ways during COVID-19

Peaceful Assembly

Far-right protest restriction of movement

On 25th April 2020, around 1000 people gathered in Berlin to protest the confinement measures imposed by the government in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Although the demonstration had originally been announced as a ‘Hygiene-Demo’, protesters were carrying signs which criticised confinement measures for infringing on their constitutional rights and their personal freedoms. They demanded an end to Germany’s current state of emergency and some accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of "banning life". Similar protests were organised in Berlin and other German cities in previous weeks and are growing. Michael Ballweg, who organised the demonstrations in Stuttgart said that he is protesting to support basic rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

The resistance against confinement measures in Germany is mainly led by the far-right opposition party AfD which accused the government of exaggerating the risks of the virus. However, the demonstration in Berlin primarily attracted far-left groups, resulting in a very mixed crowd of protesters from both sides of the political spectrum and, according to several media outlets, included many conspiracy theorists.

Due to the ban on gatherings of over 20 people to reduce the spread of COVID-19, authorities deemed the demonstration illegal. To prevent people from coming together on the Rosa-Luxemburg Square, police officers blocked access routes to the square, effectively moving the demonstration into the surrounding streets. In a statement, the police say that they initially tried to disperse the crowd as people were not adhering to social distancing of 1,5 meters from each other. When these orders were ignored police proceeded to arrest 105 people for violating the confinement measures. There was also a small counter-demonstration of 20 people with the message: “The Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz remains in solidarity and left!”

Asylum seekers protest quarantine measures

On 16th March 2020 over 500 asylum seekers at a centre in Suhl in the state of Thuringia began protesting after they were placed in quarantine, when one migrant man tested positive for the coronavirus. According to police, some migrants tried to leave the facility, while others blocked off access to the canteen in the centre. More police were brought in to defuse the situation. Asylum seekers also raised concerns for their safety due to the lack of protective gear like face masks.

Activists find creative ways to protest during COVID-19

Given the limitations on public gatherings, activists have had to discover alternative ways of protesting.

  • Refugee solidarity group Seebruecke protested creatively by requesting that people paint their footprints and ‘leave their trace' around various German institutions, under the campaign #Leavenoonebehind. The group is calling for the evacuation of migrant camps in Greece. Online #Leavenoonebehind protests were also organised, attracting 6,000 people and 30,000 clicks nationwide. The movement also called for Europe to leave its borders open and support refugees.
  • On 24th April 2020 young climate activists found a creative way of marking the 5th global climate strike.They collected over 1,000 placards from all over Germany and laid them out near the Bundestag (German Federal Parliament) to remind the German government of another crisis - the climate crisis. Thousands also joined the online demonstration.
  • German doctors have created the ‘Blanke Bedenken’ (Naked Qualms) campaign to protest the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus crisis. The doctors posed naked to show the vulnerability the profession is currently experiencing.
Far-left gather for May Day protest

Hundreds of protesters in Berlin defied the ban on public gatherings and took to the streets in protest on the evening of 1st May 2020 in Kreuzberg which is the traditional centre for left-wing May Day protests.The far-left groups called for more solidarity towards refugees in Europe and for fighting back against capitalist systems. However, the group urged participants to adhere to social distancing restrictions and wear face masks. The 5,000 police officers were deployed to monitor the protest. Police allegedly arrested six people who were part of a group of youths who attacked the camera crew of national broadcaster ZDF (see expression below).

Expression

On 1st May 2020, the camera crew of German public broadcaster ZDF was severely assaulted in Berlin. According to a statement from ZDF, the team of seven was on their way to their vehicles after filming for the satirical programme "heute-show" when they were attacked by a group of around 15 hooded individuals. All except one were injured and four of the victims needed to be treated in hospital.

Four men and two women with ties to left-motivated criminality were arrested in relation to the attack the same evening. All were released a day later due to insufficient evidence against them, as the investigation continues. Both the director of ZDF, the German Union of Journalists and the German Association of Journalists have condemned the attack and warned that this is a serious threat to press freedom.

“This was an attack on freedom of the press that cannot be justified and must be investigated. The perpetrators must be held accountable,”- Federal director of the German Union of Journalists, Cornelia Berger.

On 6th May 2020 another unauthorised protest of about 400 people was staged outside the Reichstag parliament building against the measures taken by the government to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The camera crew of Germany's public service broadcaster ARD was attacked by a protestor. Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas condemned the attack on members of the media. A 46-year-old suspect was arrested in connection with the incident. ARD editor-in-chief Rainald Becker condemned the incident:

“First a ZDF camera team, today an ARD team. Anyone who attacks journalists and prevents them from doing their job is attacking democracy.”