Lars Ritter wanted to have police pain grips against him banned by the Berlin Administrative Court and set a precedent, but failed for formal reasons. Now the case will be heard in a principal proceeding.
The climate movement Last Generation called them “torture-like methods on peaceful protesters”, now they are going to court: activist Lars Ritter filed a lawsuit against so-called pain grips at the Berlin Administrative Court on Tuesday. Police officers use these en masse to force peaceful blockaders off the street. It involves twisting the arm and wrist, causing great pain. The police in Berlin describe this as a legally permissible “transport and control technique”. In November last year, an officer justified the measure with “occupational health and safety” and literally told a demonstrator: “Well, I’m not carrying you, because I have back [problems].”
The use of pain grips against Ritter that is now in question took place on 20 April on the Straße des 17. Juni at a sit-in in the capital. Although he was behaving peacefully and even indicated that officers could carry him off the street as a less violent measure, a police officer pulled the activist up by the jaw and twisted his arm. Upright and with his wrists folded over, Ritter was then dragged off the street with the assistance of another officer.
The activist is supported in his lawsuit by the Society for Freedom Rights (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e. V., GFF). Founded in 2015, the non-profit association specialises in strategically planned lawsuits and constitutional complaints and aims to contribute to the protection of fundamental rights in Germany. The GFF describes the use of physical violence and infliction of pain as one of the most massive conceivable encroachments on fundamental rights; it states that this is only permissible in absolutely exceptional situations. A peaceful protest held en masse at various locations does not constitute such a situation. Painful attacks in this context also endanger the freedom of assembly, which is protected by fundamental rights.
“This approach also violates the core principle of proportionality under the rule of law, because milder means could be used,” criticises GFF procedural coordinator Joschka Selinger. Officers are not allowed to use pain grips to torture peaceful demonstrators. “By doing so, the police abuse their monopoly on the use of force and thus shake confidence in the rule of law.” As degrading and inhuman treatment, pain grips could also violate the ban on torture and thus breach the European Convention on Human Rights, the GFF said.
This is not Ritter’s first appearance before the Berlin Administrative Court. The activist had already filed a complaint in urgent proceedings after the incident on 20 April. In it, the illegality of the use of pain grips should be established by way of an interim injunction in order to prevent it for the future. Ritter’s lawyer, Patrick Heinemann, argued that the use of pain grips was a particularly serious infringement of fundamental rights and pointed out that there would be a repeat case, as his client was planning further sit-in blockades.
The court dismissed the complaint because a fundamental determination of illegality was “in principle not permissible in proceedings for interim legal protection”. A clarification of the legality or illegality of the measure complained of could only be fulfilled in the main proceedings, the judges said. The GFF now supports such a trial on the merits, in which Ritter is again represented by the lawyer and administrative law expert Heinemann. The aim of the lawsuit is also to “set clear limits to this police practice”, according to the association.
The police officers who used the pain grip against Ritter on 20 April were investigated on suspicion of assault in office after receiving a criminal complaint. The Berlin police said on Twitter that they wanted to check a video circulating on the net. Three weeks later, the investigation was still ongoing, a police spokeswoman told the legal magazine “Legal Tribune Online”. The case had been handed over to the public prosecutor’s office, the press office now told “nd”. There, itis still pending until the end of the investigation, the spokesperson said on request.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: With a pain grip, police officers twist the arm and wrist (“Polizei wendet Schmerzgriffe an, um Aktivisten von Extinction Rebellion zum Laufen zu bewegen” by Stefan-Mueller-climate, CC BY 2.0).