Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens (3)

"Homosexuality is a grave sin!"
In August 2006 during the annual Christopher Street Parade, a German hotel keeper in Munich had equipped a so-called popemobile with a puppet of the pope. The puppet of pope Benedikt XVI had blue-red make-up and a green condom in his hand; the scene was garnished with banners containing earlier quotations of the pope: “Homosexual relationships are deeply unmoral” and “We have to encounter homosexuals with mercy” and the like. The happening took place during a kind of euphoria in German mass media due to the upcoming visit of the German (in fact Bavarian born) pope, producing headlines such as “We are Pope”. Accordingly, the popemobile showed a banner “Are we Pope?”, referring to homosexuals. A priest, who had watched the scene, (some say he was a member of the notorious Society of Saint Pius X), called the police who immediately ordered the carriage to be taken off the road on the grounds that the pope had been insulted as gay (!) (Why would a gay insult someone as gay?) Later, the owner of the popemobile received a complaint for having denigrated a foreign head of state and slandered a religious confession. The charge was dismissed. The hotel keeper in return filed a lawsuit against the police for having curtailed his right for freedom of expression and art as well as the right of assembly. Bavarian higher administrative court dropped down the case in the first instance. Only the second try in 2009 was successful. Finally, since March 8, 2010, it is again legally permitted in catholic Bavaria to poke fun at the pope.

Three days before the pope's visit in Germany, September 2006, performance artist Wolfram P. Kastner dressed up as Papal Nuncio and Georg Ledig dressed up as Hitler went arm in arm walking through the inner city of Munich. Before the arrival of the honored son of the German Free State of Bavaria, Kastner and his co-partner wanted to remind people of the tight relationships between the Nazi party and the Vatican. Kastner reports that they were led to the next police station under the pretense of “finding a common clarification of how to choose practicable a way”. His costume was confiscated as “averting danger in respect to public order and safety”. When Kastner complained and told the police that they should rather concentrate on real dangers for the public and that their actions rather look like the actions of a police state than those of a democracy, one of the officers remarked “a little bit of a police state won't hurt”.

Kastner's report (in German) can be read here

In fact, for the Bavarian law 2 (!) citizens having a conversation on the street are enough to constitute an assembly, if the conversation is addressed to the public. If, as in the mentioned case, 2 citizens are performing a silent protest (or only one is speaking), this is not an assembly (see FAQ to the Bavarian Assembly Law)

About the same time, September 14, 2006, a street on the route of the popemobile through the small town of Freising, Bavaria: under a window a banner “DISCRIMINATION, DENIAL, … CHURCH – NO THANK YOU! The author of the banner was staying in the house with his mother and another person when two policemen entered the flat without permission and destroyed the banner, after getting rough and injuring the arm of the owner. No explanation from the police, except “executing an order” and, informally, “that the pope drops by in Freising every few centuries and so this should be well received in the public”. The attacked man went a long way to defend his rights but was not successful finally: the German Constitutional Court dropped down the case on a technicality. (-->whole documentation of the case in German language, including original documents)

That much on the unconditional love of the Bavarian police for “their” pope, Josef Ratzinger. One could fill books with cases of curtailing citizens' assembly in Germany, alone in the last decade. German blogs are chock full of complaints about the “surveillance state” or the “police state Germany” and one may concede the Germans some degree of sensibility towards “a little bit of a police state” - 65 years after the Nazi regime and about 20 years after the Stasi.

Some of these stories of German surveillance measures are almost too irresistible to keep back. Here's another goody (once described as the highlight on the journey to Absurdistan):

Bavarian leather trousers
Another vague concept in German Jurisdiction that is open to free interpretation by the executive authorities. According to German law it is unclear whether famous Bavarian leather trousers may be seen as “body armor” or just the usual traditional clothing, since leather has a cushioning and isolating effect (in respect to electric shocks).

The truly highlights of German government's terrorist hysteria appeared when it came to prepare three critic-free receptions for George W. Bush in Berlin (2002), Mainz and Wiesbaden (2005) and Stralsund (2006). This is to be discussed in a later post.

Back to Naomi Wolf's The End of America – Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. In Chapter 7 she only leaves a small part for:

        3.   Curtailing Citizens' Assembly

Dictators fear the power of mass movements and try to restrict assemblies therefore. Wolf gives examples from Mussolini's Italy, Mexico, Pinochet's Chile. Examples of the strength built up by marching in a mass:

“It is masses of people united who brought down the Berlin Wall; stood up to Chinese tanks; and overwhelmed a dictator in the Philippines. Massed citizens ended Jim Crow laws and brought the war in Vietnam to a close. It is so simple a tool, but so powerful.”

The only recent example of curtailing the freedom of assembly given by Wolf is that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration banning protesters from the Great Lawn in New York's Central Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Eventually the case was settled in 2008 by ordering the city “to pay damages to civil rights and anti-war organizations for discriminatorily denying them the right to hold a demonstration on the Great Lawn”.

One might be surprised that only one example is offered. The freedom of assembly seems to be the one of the best protected rights in the U.S. (?)

Two more examples from Europe, the first of the effectiveness of mass protests, the second concerning another try to restrict the freedom of assembly:
This possibly may not happen in London where Parliamentarians don't like to be disturbed by the masses and therefore banned any protests at close range since 2005 – thereby creating their own critic-free zone: see “How Parliament passed the Statute Law banning the right of Legitimate Protest within sight of itself and the Government”.


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