The way that demonstrations in Copenhagen have been handled over the past few days has confirmed the concerns that arose when the Liberal-Conservative-Danish People’s Party bloc in Parliament rushed through the so—called Hooligan Package. The use of force has been completely out of proportion to the number of hooded hooligans.
Contrary to the reasonable concerns in recent weeks that imported anarchists would transform the capital into a war zone – fears that were stimulated by the Security and Intelligence Agency (PET) that compared the threat to that of al-Qaeda – the reality is luckily that the majority of the black-clad activists are young people who could be handled with classical police methods.
Of course, all violent hooligans who wreak havoc in Copenhagen and attempt to disrupt the COP15 summit should be arrested individually, and charged with their crimes. And of course, the police should have a margin for human error of judgement during turbulent riots.
But the police has abused this trust and proceeded with a ruthlessness that is out of all proportion in an open society guided by the rule of law. With the arbitrary mass arrests of innocent demonstrators who have done nothing wrong, the police risks increasing tensions.
The basic principles of individual guilt and concrete suspicion have been put aside in favour of a highly objectionable practice of collective arrests and preventive attacks.
The mistakes could perhaps be excused as an error of judgement if the new methods used by the police were restricted to the Climate Summit. But the strategy of arbitrary detention unfortunately seems to have come to stay. The fact that the Socialist People’s Party doesn’t even dare to distance itself from the methods, shows just how far it has all gone.
In future, foreigners who take part in legal demonstrations will also be able to lose their residence permits if the police, without a concrete reason, can suddenly arrest people.
Nor does harassment of photographers and the media benefit a country that claims to be uncompromising in its defence of the freedom of speech.
The important task of the police in a democracy is both to insure the population against arbitrary violence and to ensure the right of free assembly. The Hooligan Package has given officers powers that may seem useful now, but in the long run weaken the civil rights that they are employed to protect.
The package must be amended as soon as possible. Holding summits cannot motivate weakening the rule of law in a constitutional state – irrespective of how many politicians seem to support the idea.
Translated by Julian Isherwood