What happened in Hamburg?

Policemen and water canons block the road to the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, 7 July 2017. Boris Roessler/Press Association. All rights reserved. Hamburg was a brave choice. Recent G20 summits have been hosted on
remote islands or in castles deep in the countryside, out of the way of
activists and media.

Hamburg is a well-connected city with a rich history of protest. Other cities that hosted G20
and G8 summits saw huge protests and state repression and violence. Genoa in
2001, Seattle in 2008, London in 2009 or Toronto in 2010 were the scenes of
widespread arrests and injuries. A protestor died in Genoa. Policing
methods introduced in London were later found to be unlawful. The mass
arrests of demonstrators, bystanders and journalists in Toronto were strongly
criticised by human rights organisations.

A new generation

The majority of the tens of
thousands of people who headed to Hamburg wanted
to demand international solidarity and to condemn wars and border-walls. They
had a sobering stay.

Many had no experience of earlier
protests against the G20 and the G8. Even before the riots that followed the Welcome
to Hell demonstration, civil liberties and constitutional rights were stripped
away. Faced with a police strategy of intimidation and harassment, people found
themselves in a city under siege: 

  • – An activist camp at the Elbpark
    Entenwerder was unlawfully closed by the police on Sunday. Police used pepper-spray
    during the eviction. At least one journalist was attacked by the police.
  • – Police escalated the tension in the days that followed,
    mostly targeting local people participating in protest;hanging around at
  • – People who tried to reach Germany through the Netherlands were stopped, their passports confiscated,
    bags searched, and although nothing was found, buses were sent back;
    demonstrators were forced to sign statements that they would not travel to
    Germany in order to get their passports back.
  • – Many other international activists travelling to Hamburg were held
    at the border and sent back. A bus transporting several German youth groups was
    stopped, half the people were strip searched and prevented from contacting lawyers.
  • – The police used new gear: armored vehicles, helicopters, and brand
    new three meter high water canons.
  • – Police inflated the number of officers that were injured during
    the protests. The first number, 479, was later debunked but not officially
    corrected. 95% of those injured could continue their work after on-the-spot
  • – Journalists who fact-checked police estimates of injuries calculated that roughly 234 officers were
    reported wounded. This number includes approximately
    130 police officers from Hessen that reported injuries as a result of teargas,
    most likely caused by the police themselves.
  • – Journalists reporting on protests were already targeted on Sunday,
    pattern that continued in various forms throughout the week, with targeted
    attacks and criminalisation of journalists. Press accreditation for the official summit was
    taken away from several journalists, a move protested
    by the German Union of Journalists.
  • – Stories continue to surface about police violence during the
    protests. The press reported
    heavy-handed policing during the non-violent direct action; colour the red zone.
  • – Anti-terror police units removed street medics at gunpoint from an
    improvised field hospital and used water cannon against street
    medics and the press. During a peaceful demonstration, police escalated the
    tension by attacking peaceful
  • – Demonstrators who were arrested and lawyers assisting arrestees
    reported degrading treatment, neglect of medical care, even of injured
    protestors, and disregard
    for the right to legal assistance.

All in all, human rights defenders were alarmed.

Escalation is dangerous: solidarity is necessary

Support structures,
journalists and lawyers, as well as activists themselves were targeted. Authorities
worked to control the narrative, using the escalating violence as an excuse to
put the city under siege.

Activists were lucky to find
themselves in a city with a long and proud tradition of solidarity. The people
of Hamburg opened their doors, homes, gardens and churches when protestors
looked for a place to sleep, shower or get medical treatment. But demonstrators
cannot always be so fortunate as to count on such a home advantage.

Hamburg as a litmus test

Democratic space is
shrinking almost everywhere. Civil society organisations are sounding the
alarm. A wider
pattern of repression is happening around the globe. More and more cities
and countries see strategic campaigns to criminalize protests – including
severe costs for individuals who dissent (jobs lost, arrests, emotional and
physical intimidation) – curbs on freedom of speech, freedom of the press under
pressure, as are the rights to peaceful assembly and

Hamburg was not an isolated
case, but rather a litmus test for our fundamental freedoms. For those outside
of Hamburg this should serve as a sobering warning that democracy is under threat
from all sides.

For comprehensive sources and references see the original account on TNI.

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