Hundreds arrested in Berlin protests against Covid restrictions
More than 600 people have been arrested after participating in protests against the German government’s coronavirus measures, officials have said.
About 13 separate demonstrations took place around Berlin on Sunday, despite being banned by a court order and participants saying they would not follow safety rules.
Most of the approximately 5,000 protesters – a fraction of the 22,500 expected before the ban was announced – failed to stick to social distancing rules or to wear medical masks, according to police.
After participants did not heed orders to abide by hygiene rules, police used pepper spray and truncheons to break up the crowds. Water cannon and a tank similar to an armoured recovery vehicle were on hand but not needed, according to police.
Police confirmed that a 49-year-old man, who had travelled from the Rhineland region with his son to participate, collapsed and later died after breaking through a barrier.
A postmortem into the cause of his death has been ordered by a Berlin court.
The head of the Berlin-Brandenburg branch of the German Journalist Union (DJU), Jörg Reichel, was attacked on the sidelines of the protest, after months in which he has attempted to monitor the Querdenker (lateral thinker) movement. The movement is against the government’s attempts to restrict the spread of coronavirus, calling the measures fascistic, and condemning the vaccine campaign as a form of apartheid.
Reichel, who according to witnesses was pulled from his bicycle and beaten and kicked before passersby intervened, had been acting as an observer for journalists covering the protests, a growing number of whom have reported being verbally and physically attacked by demonstrators.
Monique Hofmann, head of the DJU, said that Reichel, who is undergoing hospital treatment, had been receiving threats from the Querdenker scene for months, and that his picture and name had been circulated on numerous channels associated with the movement on the instant messaging service Telegram.
Several police officers were also injured on Sunday.
Police announced on Monday that three further demonstrations planned later in the day, under the titles “Year of Freedom and Peace” and “Free Life, Free Love”, had also been banned.
Organisers have complained that they are being treated differently from other political demonstrations, such as the Christopher Street Day parade that took place in Berlin last month, attracting 65,000 participants. Mask-wearing and physical distancing rules were often ignored at that event.
Wolfgang Schäuble, the president of the German parliament, led condemnation of the Querdenker protests, arguing that the participants’ dismissal of mainstream scientific knowledge on the virus was irresponsible, and appealed to them to respect the evidence.
“If almost all experts globally are saying coronavirus is dangerous and vaccines help, who then actually has the right to say ‘I know better’?” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. “For me, that is an almost unbearable degree of arrogance.” He added: “Look at the science … don’t be led down the garden path by cheap slogans.”