Europe: Protests under attack

Featured image: German police brutally attacking the international Maoist contingent at the LLL-demonstration in Berlin almost killing a veteran comrade; Source: Dem Volke Dienen

Amnesty International, a so-called „human rights“ organization lately published a report on „the state of the right to protest in 21 european countries“, titled „under protected and over restricted“.

Within this report „Amnesty“ reveals, according to their character as a bourgeois-democratic institution in service of imperialism, the reactionarization of the old States in the question of the right to assemble and the freedom of expression.

Here we present a summary of this report in the words Amnesty itself used:

Many of the rights and freedoms that we take for granted today have been achieved, in whole or in part, by people taking to the streets to demand change for the better and make their calls heard.

In Europe many state authorities respond to peaceful protests by stigmatizing, impeding, deterring, punishing and cracking down on protesters. Authorities use a wide range of different means to suppress those organizing and participating in protests, including by passing repressive laws and using unnecessary or excessive force against peaceful protesters or arbitrarily apprehending, detaining and imprisoning them.

States’ increasing employment of surveillance technology, such as the use of artificial intelligence to monitor individuals and groups, also represents a grave attack on human rights including the right of peaceful assembly. The constant threat of surveillance makes many people reluctant to exercise their human rights, including by taking part in demonstrations. This so-called ‘chilling effect’ is especially severe for individuals and groups who already experience heightened barriers to protest, for example, because they are subjected to inequality, marginalization, racism, discrimination and violence because of their race, ethnicity, religion and/or migration status.

In some parts of Europe, Amnesty International has documented a wide array of undue restrictions on protest for a number of years, as well as policing that disproportionately focuses on racialized individuals and groups and discriminates against them. In other European countries, these undue restrictions form a newer and/or more subtle pattern of violations and interferences with the right to assemble peacefully.

The report demonstrates that, for many states, their legal framework and/or state practice fails to sufficiently reflect the presumption in favor of peaceful assemblies. While some of the countries analyzed appear to be closer to respecting people’s right of peaceful assembly than others, concerns exist throughout the region on all the key aspects related to the right.

In Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and the UK laws have been used, proposed or already introduced, to create a significantly more restrictive environment for the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly. Harmful rhetoric from state officials was commonplace and it often stigmatized peaceful protests and the aims and identities of their participants, demonizing protesters by likening them to “terrorists”, “criminals”, “foreign agents”, “anarchists” and “extremists”, among numerous other stigmatizing terms. The groups on the receiving end of such harmful statements include people who mobilized for Palestinian solidarity […] This harmful rhetoric is used to justify the introduction of yet further restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly in Germany, Italy and the UK.

Amnesty International’s research has identified a worrying pattern across Europe – Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia, Switzerland, UK – where public assemblies organized to express solidarity with Palestinian people have been banned and/or disproportionately restricted; certain chants, Palestinian flags, keffiyehs and other symbols were banned; proceeded to dispersing peaceful protests camps, including when did not result in serious and sustained disruption; and protesters also reported excessive use of force and arbitrary detentions. The spurious grounds of ‘public order’ or ‘public safety’ used to ban or severely restrict Palestinian solidarity demonstrations fail to comply with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality, but also entrench racial prejudice and stereotyping.

The authorities in some countries – including Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey – have resorted to terrorism-related provisions, and laws related to combating organized crime, and national security, to target activists engaged in protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

The existing legal provisions prohibiting discrimination stand in stark contrast to the treatment that some groups and individuals face in practice, including Black people, Arab people or people

belonging to other racialized groups in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the UK […] people protesting in support of Palestinian’s rights in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland and the UK. Moreover specific legislative provisions discriminate against ‘non-citizens’ in Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Serbia and Turkey.

During the period 2020 to September 2023, a very high number of examples of excessive and/or unnecessary use of force were reported during protests. This resulted in serious and sometimes permanent injuries among protesters including broken bones or teeth (France, Germany, Greece, Italy), loss of hearing (Greece), burns (Greece), loss of a hand (France), loss of a testicle (Spain), and damage to the eyes and severe head trauma (Spain). In some cases, injuries were inflicted upon children (Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland). Incidents of use of force were reported that amount to torture in France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain.

Deployment of military personnel to police protests is allowed Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Serbia, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK. Their training, experience and modus operandi is generally oriented to the conduct of hostilities in which the use of force, including lethal force, is often the first choice of action.

Cases of police impunity or lack of accountability in numerous countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Türkiye and the UK are reported.

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