Journalists continuously targeted at anti-COVID-19 protests

Journalists continuously targeted at anti-COVID-19 protests
Thousands gather to protest over COVID-19 measures (Photo by Carsten Koall / Getty Images).

Association

AfD surveillance halted by court

On 3rd March 2021 information was leaked about the German intelligence agency investigating the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party for its connections with right-wing extremism. After two years of collecting information on the AfD's activities, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) decided to place the right-wing party under surveillance for posing a threat to democracy. This would enable the agency by law to shadow the party, to infiltrate informants and to intercept their communications, among other measures.

Nevertheless, two days later, on 5th March 2021, the Cologne administrative court stopped the plan of the BfV to place AfD under surveillance; the agency will need to wait for the verdict to a legal challenge brought by the political party before any surveillance can take place. The court concluded that secret services were not cautious enough with the information concerning the case and failed to prevent the leak to the press. Moreover, the court observed that the attention brought by the case was detrimental to AfD’s constitutional right to enjoy “equal opportunities amongst political parties, especially in a crucial year for elections”. Alternative for Germany is currently the largest opposition group in the Bundestag and federal elections will take place in September.

Peaceful Assembly

Clashes between police and anti-COVID protesters

On 20th March 2021, anti-COVID-19 protests took place in the city of Kassel in reaction to the COVID-19 measures implemented in Germany and during a rise of infections in the country. Recently Angela Merkel had announced a possible slowdown in easing restrictions to contrast the surge of cases. Thousands of people gathered in the city square despite a court ban, without wearing masks or respecting social distancing, reporters said. The police made use of water cannon when protesters tried to break through a barrier of agents. The police also employed batons and pepper spray to disperse a protest that they defined as not peaceful. Some protesters were detained, but it is not clear how many.

The rally was organised by the Querdenken (Lateral Thinking) movement who had staged several similar events in Germany before and was joined by members of far-left and far-right movements, negationists and anti-vaxxers.

Expression

Attacks on reporters continue

Journalists covering protests against COVID-19 measures continue to face attack (see previous CIVICUS monitor update). The following cases were documented by Mapping Media Freedom Rapid Response:

  • On 20th March 2021, during a protest organised by Querdenken,a man in a yellow rain jacket approached the Hessischer Rundfunk team and pushed the cameraman. The TV camera almost fell from the journalist's shoulder. In addition, a freelance photojournalist was physically attacked by a demonstrator.
  • On 22nd March 2021, during a motorcade demonstration by the "Querdenken" movement in Berlin, a journalist from the Association of German Press Photographers was detained for two hours by police on suspicion of a criminal offence, i.e. an attempt to destroy the car mirror of a demo participant. The incident occurred after a state security officer (National Criminal Police Office, LKA) allegedly drove intentionally towards a journalist who was on his bike, but the journalist managed to avoid a collision.
  • On 28th March 2021, a photojournalist was physically attacked, with her equipment hit by a right-wing protester in Sinsheim, Germany. Police de-escalated the situation, however, and only took down the name of the journalist, while the attacker left through the crowd. Two other photojournalists were also verbally threatened during the same protest, with shouts of “get rid of the journalists” and “something worse will happen if you won’t leave”.