Copenhagen cops and the climate of fear
Bibi van der Zee: Danish police don't seem too familiar with the right to protest
14 Dec 09

Three days of protests on the streets of Copenhagen, three kettles, and over 1,200 arrests…what a list.

It’s hard to believe that even as the UN chugs slowly away at the climate change summit, out here the Danish police are behaving as if they’ve never heard of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

This is what it’s been like. On Friday, during a demonstration involving about 500 people, police kettled a few hundred of them (including myself) on a bridge for half an hour. It was a bit of a shock to ring the police later and find out that they’d made 68 arrests in the course of the day.

On Saturday a huge and wonderful climate change march set off through the streets of Copenhagen; a great atmosphere (more music and better energy than the Wave in London the previous week), lots of lovely people, happily making use of their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly, generally seen by all as a good thing. A few incidents occurred early on, and bricks were thrown, but the event was mostly peaceful. And then, without giving any warning, the police rushed in and penned off a section in the middle of the march. The back end was diverted around the kettle, and the people inside it were cuffed,  and left sitting on the ground for several hours before being loaded onto buses and taken to detention centres. For several hours some of the detainees were refused food, drink, or access to toilets. In total the police arrested 958 people. The following morning all but 13 were released.

On Sunday a smaller demonstration took place. About 1,000 or so  set off for the harbour for the planned “Hit the Production” demo. Before they really got anywhere they were once more kettled, cuffed and loaded onto buses. This time the police made 257 arrests. Once again almost all of them are released the following morning.

Let’s just glance at the Universal Declaration very quickly. Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Article 20, s.1: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Article 21, s.1: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

That’s just a little taster. We can move on, if you wish, to the European Convention on Human Rights, where similar articles grant us similar rights.

It’s already likely that the way the Danish police have treated protesters will be going to the courts, both here in Denmark and a little further south in Strasbourg, where the European Court of Human Rights is based. Would anyone like to guess what the courts will decide?