The Eastern city of Leipzig is preparing itself for a major demonstration against the new government measures to combat Covid-19.
Police face the challenge of maintaining order while respecting the right to protest.
Germany’s demonstrations against anti-coronavirus public health measures have become part of the political furniture. But when they started in June, observers were shocked to see tens of thousands of people regularly gathering around the country as a movement known as “Querdenker” (“lateral thinkers”) built momentum.
The movement, which now has branches in more than 50 towns across the country, claims on its homepage that its main aim is to support the fundamental rights enshrined in the German Basic Law — Germany’s Constitution — particularly the freedoms of opinion, expression, and assembly. But it has also become more aggressive.
“We’re seeing an ever more heated atmosphere at the corona protests,” Martin Pallgen, spokesman for Berlin’s Interior Ministry told DPA news agency.
“There is especially a stronger, more verbally aggressive attitude among corona-deniers towards police officers, counter-demonstrators, and representatives of the media.”
On the streets, the Querdenker movement (and associated demos by smaller groups) has been marked by an unlikely alliance of far-right and far-left fringes, as well as a handful of conspiracy theorists.
Often many of the protesters appeared wildly misinformed about the virus and therefore mistrustful of the government measures being implemented.
The movement’s commitment to Germany’s democratic order was also questioned in late August when a few demonstrators at one of the biggest Querdenker demos in Berlin — attended by an estimated 38,000 people — rushed the steps of Germany’s parliament building, the Reichstag.
Despite some brief media hysteria following that incident, the movement has since devolved into regular smaller-scale demonstrations around the country — sometimes organized by allied groups, rather than the Querdenker themselves.
Another difference, of course, is that Germany is now just a few days into a new partial lockdown, with the closure of restaurants and hotels and much stricter rules on gatherings of people.
Opposition to such measures has become more widespread in the population since Germany’s first lockdown in March and April: Initial fear of being infected with COVID-19 has given way to stronger concerns about the economic consequences of an extended lockdown.
Protecting freedoms, pandemic or no
These new circumstances are likely to encourage the Querdenker movement, whose next major demo will come on Saturday, in the Eastern city of Leipzig, where police expect 20,000 people to rally in more than a dozen demonstrations and counter-demonstrations around the city.
“We’re preparing for a very challenging weekend,” a Leipzig police spokesman told DW, before adding that reinforcements have already been called in from neighboring states and the federal police.
The new regulations allow demonstrations, but only under certain circumstances: All participants must wear masks, and the gatherings must stay in the same place — marches are banned.
The Leipzig police, meanwhile, have been careful to underline that freedom of assembly remains an important constitutional right, and they will only intervene as a last resort — in other words when public safety is threatened.
“A complete limitation of the freedom of assembly is a very sensitive issue in Germany, just based on history,” a police spokesman told DW, referring to the authoritarianism that took hold of the country under Nazi rule in the 1930s and in East Germany after the war.
“The decision to break up a demo is always taken by the municipal public order office, not the police,” he added. “It makes the decisions, and it assesses the concrete conditions on the ground. If all the conditions for breaking up a protest are met, then they can make that decision, and then the police have to act.”
So far, the police said, there have been no indications that violence could break out in Leipzig, though they are aware that some radical groups intend to show up.
A complex problem
Even in the face of a global pandemic and public health concerns, it is very difficult for the authorities to ban protests outright. In the past few months, some attempts to do so in Berlin have been thwarted by the courts, who have a duty to guard against constitutional violations. German courts often tend to side with people’s rights in such cases.
Paulina Starski, a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, said there is certainly a danger that authorities could use coronavirus prevention measures to curtail constitutional freedoms.
“The new rules during the hard lockdown led to a situation where the freedom of assembly was to a large extent de facto suspended,” she told DW in an interview in August. But subsequent court decisions allowing demonstrations have redressed that balance since then.
“It’s a basic problem of the coronavirus situation that many constitutional lawyers are discussing because there was a massive political need to act to protect the health of the population,” Starski added. “Now we’re in a kind of review phase — are any constitutional guidelines being violated? Because from a constitutional point of view, the tendency is always towards protecting freedom.”
- #FixTheCountry protestors counter injunction with #NameAndShame campaign on social media
- I had sex with a goat, masturbated 6 times a day – Male victim of sexual abuse recounts
- Mahama Ayariga acquitted, Opuni ordered to open his defence
- Chief allegedly orders for school to be demolished for his palace at Adumasa
- Methodist Church stands by its objection to GES directive to let Muslim students fast – Bishop of Northern Accra Diocese
- Government declares Thursday, May 13, as public holiday to mark Eid-ul-Fitr
- Korle-Bu doctor poisons colleague’s water with HIV blood
- EC must review processes leading to 2020 election results collation – Akoto Ampaw
- Missing ‘okada’ rider found dead in the bush
- Keep an eye on househelps to curb sexual abuse – Victim of child defilement advises parents
Libya: Gunmen storm hotel used as Presidential Council HQ
Covid-19: Roll-out for second doses to begin May 19
Over 130 injured as Palestinian worshippers clash with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa mosque
Stephen Bernard Donkor: Politicians must fix their attitudes
Pensioner in BBC Africa Eye film dies without pension
Christ Embassy Church members plead not guilty to breaching restrictions on public gathering
Livestream: Newsfile discusses #FixTheCountry brouhaha; Muslim students not allowed to fast in public Christian school
Prince Misizulu named next Zulu king amid family feud
WHO approves Chinese Covid vaccine
Ghana to become hub of pharmaceutical production in SSA; sales forecast to hit GH¢2.86bn
Young African entrepreneurs to maximize benefits from AfCFTA
Ghana loses $200m to untapped online forex trading market
Health Directorate initiate moves to improve health care delivery at Ada West
National best maize farmer calls on government to develop agricultural policies
We must reassess the composition of NDPC – Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu