The police actions around Lützerath two months ago violated the freedom of assembly on several levels, write 14 observers from the Constitutional Rights Committee in a detailed report on the eviction of the brown coal village. They see a fundamental problem in the police monopoly on the use of force.
If North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Herbert Reul is to be believed, the evacuation of the occupied brown coal village of Lützerath two months ago was a prime example of a police operation with a sense for proportion. The officers deployed had worked “highly professionally”, the conservative politician declared in January on the ARD talk show “Anne Will”. Reul denied that there was excessive police violence, as reported by activists and documented by the media, before the Interior Committee of the Düsseldorf State Parliament. Instead, he claims to have heard from a police officer that demonstrators at the Garzweiler II open-cast mine were “striving for war-like conditions”.
A report published by the Committee for Fundamental Rights and Democracy (Grundrechtekomitee) on the occasion of the International Day against Police Violence on 15 March, which was made available to “nd” in advance, presents a much more differentiated picture. According to it, officers had tolerated life-threatening situations in their actions against the protests. On the occasion of the large demonstration in neighbouring Keyenberg on 14 January, the police used “massive violence and disproportionate force” against the participants. Police officers also used “direct brutality” at other gatherings and actions.
The Cologne-based, independent Fundamental Rights Committee was on site for almost two weeks with 14 volunteers. Their 56-page report was based on their own observations, conversations with activists and contributions from demo medics. Reports from the investigation committee, which also includes lawyers, were also analysed. Much of the information was also taken from media reports. In addition, statements from the police and the state government were recorded and contrasted with others.
Even in manageable situations, the police had used various “means of violence”, including dogs, water cannons and pepper spray, according to the observers. Officers used batons and punches abruptly and indiscriminately to cause injuries to the head, face, abdomen, collarbones and backs of a large number of demonstrators. Police horses were ridden into standing and sitting groups of people, protesters were surrounded and sometimes left without access to toilets or medical care.
According to an activists “Investigation Committee”, at least eight people had to be taken to hospital with injuries. Demo paramedics write of significantly more cases. They report lacerations, broken noses and teeth knocked out. These injuries could have been caused “only by targeted and potentially life-threatening blows from the police”, according to the Fundamental Rights Committee. It could therefore be assumed that officers had systematically hit the heads of participants in the rallies.
Reul, on the other hand, had claimed in the Interior Committee that such reports were untrue. “I assume that there is a deliberate strategy behind this to make sure that the police look bad,” said the interior minister in an interview with the Munich “Merkur”. About 100 police officers had also been injured, Reul had told the state parliament. Many of them had fallen in the mud, five had to be treated in hospital.
The Fundamental Rights Committee argues that the systematic police violence experienced and observed by countless people is being played down by politicians and the police as “isolated incidents”. There is therefore a need for a fundamental debate on police violence “as an inherent part of the police monopoly on the use of force”, they write.
The Grundrechtekomitee has been observing demonstrations since its foundation in 1980. The focus is on whether the right to freedom of assembly is respected. This right was also violated “on several levels” around Lützerath, the observers saw.
The Brokdorf decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of 1985 was disregarded with a general order issued by the police in Aachen and the accompanying ban on staying and entering the area. In this decision, the judges had emphasised that demonstrators are allowed to choose the appropriate place for their protest. This also applies to assemblies without registration as well as on publicly accessible private property, the Fundamental Rights Committee reminds. Moreover, many of the areas owned by RWE Power AG were not marked as company premises.
According to the committee, even the occupation of the brown coal village should have been considered part of an assembly – at least as long as the demonstrators allowed themselves to be evicted without violence “and expressed their opinion in this way”, the report emphasises.
In an interview with “nd”, the Fundamental Rights Committee also criticised the fact that almost 100 people had been taken into so-called transfer custody and abandoned in a village more than 70 kilometres away in the the Eifel region. Such a measure is not even provided for in the “already very repressive police law of North Rhine-Westphalia”. Nevertheless, such measures have been common practice for years, committee claims.
In the conclusion of the observers, the government and the police made themselves “stooges of an energy company” by giving more weight to the property rights of the RWE company, who initiated the evicition, than to the fundamental rights of civil society and the media. A brutal and aggressive police strategy at large gatherings was also “the opposite of de-escalation”. The Fundamental Rights Committee suspects that one reason for the police’s ruthless actions was that they were trying to complete the eviction of Lützerath before the large demonstration on the following Saturday. This had also been shown by demolition and felling work, which had often taken place without sufficient safe distance to squatters. “It is only thanks to luck that there were no serious injuries or worse in the process.”
Published in German in „nd“.