Mask dilemma for police in Germany as May Day activists cover up

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Plans for social-distancing-compliant demonstrations test prohibition on face coverings

May Day demonstrations planned in German cities this Friday pose a dilemma for police as officers face conflicting advice on whether they should ask protesters to put on face masks or pull them off.

Wearing masks in shops and on public transport was made mandatory in most German states this week, as the country relaxed some of the lockdown measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Related: Hong Kong face masks ban largely upheld despite coronavirus

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Germany | The Guardian

May Day demonstrations planned in German cities this Friday pose a dilemma for police as officers face conflicting advice on whether they should ask protesters to put on face masks or pull them off.

Wearing masks in shops and on public transport was made mandatory in most German states this week, as the country relaxed some of the lockdown measures introduced to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But German law also makes it illegal to cover your face while participating in a public gathering, such as a strike or a political demonstration, so as to prevent identification by the police.

In Berlin, a paragraph was hastily added to right-of-assembly regulations this month to clarify that anti-mask laws should not prevent the wearing of mouth-nose masks designed to protect wearers from coronavirus.

But a spokesperson for Berlin police told the Guardian that officers would have to use their personal judgement regarding which kind of masks were recommended and which were unacceptable.

The police spokesperson Thilo Cablitz said: “If you cover your mouth and nose with a surgical mask or a scarf that would be fine, but if protesters also wear hoodies, baseball caps or sunglasses we would have to consider the intention behind those items and might request their removal.”

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The approximately 5,000 officers policing the protest would be equipped with high-protection face masks, gloves and disinfectant spray, he added.

Leftwing activists in Germany announced earlier this week they would go ahead with a non-conventional take on traditional May Day protests in spite of an ongoing ban on public gatherings of more than two people, which is not due to be relaxed until next week.

In a plan for Friday’s demonstration put out via radical left websites, activists said they wanted to “flood the streets with anti-racist, anti-patriarchal and anti-capitalist content” through a decentralised march that would only temporarily convene at locations in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district announced via social media.

The call-out said: “Stick to the minimum distance and cover up your faces with scarves and masks, and keep moving.”

Radical left network Interventionist Left advised protesters to wear “unsuspicious jogging clothes” and join queues outside corner stores holding placards or banners “cut to the relevant size to mark safety distances”.

The first of May, which marks the achievements of labour movements in several countries across the globe, has in Berlin since the 1980s seen regular clashes between far-left and anarchist protesters and police. While the number of violent incidents have broadly decreased over the last 10 years, last year’s Berlin May Day nonetheless saw 150 arrests and 39 injured police officers.

Earlier this month, Germany’s constitutional court ruled that citizens have the right to hold political protests even while the country’s “contact ban” is in place, as long as they adhere to social distancing rules.

In Berlin, political protests with a maximum number of 20 people are allowed to go ahead as long as they have been registered with authorities and given the green light by the local health authority.

Last Thursday, for example, saw 17 people gather outside the Brandenburg to protest against Germany’s asylum policy and conditions at Greece’s Moria refugee camp, with each protester having marked their socially distanced spot on the square with spray paint.

Thirty separate protests have registered for Friday, with their applications currently being assessed by the health authorities.

Berlin’s senator for the interior, Andreas Geisel, said on Monday: “When it comes to the first of May, protecting the public from infections will be a priority.”

“I don’t want the gatherings on 1 May to become Berlin’s Ischgl”, the Social Democrat party politician added, referencing the Austrian skiing resort seen as a focal point for the coronavirus’ spread around central Europe.


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