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Harsh protest laws passed for COP15

7 December 2009 3 Comments
The Danish Government has passed controversial new laws to detain protesters in the lead up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference. New cage-style holding cells and a vehicle-mounted water cannon are available to local police if protests turn violent. Reportage enviro Danish Correspondent, Jeppe Funder, reports from the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen.

Controversial cages have been built to hold violent protesters during the conference. Image: Politiken.dk

Controversial cages have been built to hold violent protesters during the conference. Image: Politiken.dk

With COP15 only days away the Danish police force has taken its efforts up a notch.

A new ‘protest package’ of laws has been pushed through parliament and is now to ‘welcome’ protesters during the Climate Conference.

While the heads of states and other climate personalities from all over the world are focusing on sealing the deal in Copenhagen, the Danish police force has been gearing up for one of its biggest challenges ever.

The Government’s protest package has been underway for quite some time and has attracted much attention, as some of the powers given to the police are seen as too harsh. The new laws allow the police to administratively detain people for up to 12 hours without the detainees actually breaking any laws. Furthermore, disturbing the peace and disobeying police orders during protests will result in a minimum of 40 days in prison.

The laws have been under heavy fire since they were proposed in early November. The Danish society of Judges, the Danish Defense Attorneys, the Danish institute for Human Rights and various other human rights associations are among the critics.

In a response to the Danish Parliament the Danish Society of Judges underline that the laws are ‘putting pressure on the rule of law’ in Denmark. Furthermore the laws will put a heavy economic burden on the justice system.

The laws were passed on the November 26. The opposition voted against the protest package and stated that they would like to see the law abolished in January when the Climate Conference is over.

This new protest package could also mean more arrests during the Climate Conference Copenhagen from December 8-17. But since the Danish prisons are filled to the brim already, as Danish national newspaper Berlingske Tidende reported shortly after the laws were passed, the police have found new ways to prepare for mass arrests of protesters.

A new improvised prison has been built in an old industrial warehouse on the outskirts of Copenhagen. 37 cages each measuring 5 by 2.4 meters have been installed in the warehouse. Each cage is designed to hold 10 protesters within the 12 square meters of space in the cage. But ideally no protesters will see the inside of the cages according to the police.

“The criterium for success is that they will never be used. But we have to be prepared,” Deputy Police Inspector Rasmus Bernt Skovsgaard told Danish newspaper Politiken.

Amnesty International condemned the method of detaining protesters. Referring to the UN laws about prisoners, the general secretary of Amnesty International Denmark, Lars Normann Jørgensen, told Politiken that combined with the new protest package innocent people could end up in the cages

“These people have done nothing illegal, and the police have no intention of charging them. They just want them off the street,” he said.

Mr Jørgensen refers to the UN standards for the treatment of detainees, which requires that all detainees must be able to sit, sleep and have enough room for privacy.

“There is a whole list of demands that need to be met. Furthermore the convention says that no detainees can be subjected to degrading or humiliating treatment. Something that will definitely happen in this case,” he said.

The police have responded to the criticism by stating that no one will be detained as long as they do not break any laws.

The Danish Ombudsman is currently looking into the cage issues.

But these are not the only questionable powers that have been given to local police. The new tool of riot police in Copenhagen is a car-mounted water cannon which was shown to reporters recently. NGO’s say the police are sending wrong signals.

Peoples Climate Action leader Lene Vennits is worried that the new water cannon is signalling that trouble is coming up at COP15.

“We’re worried what the public impression of what will be going on during COP15 is,” she told Politiken, referring to the newest addition to police weaponry for handling protesters during the Climate Conference.

The police fully understand the NGO’s concerns and stated that they have no intention of using the water cannon.

“But we have to look at the experiences from other countries. And our impressions is, that someone is going to cause trouble,” Deputy Police Inspector Sten Søder said.

The water cannon demonstration was performed shortly after the release of a video from an organisation called “Never Trust a COP (NTAC)” surfaced on Youtube. In the video, the activists threaten to set Copenhagen on fire during the a planned protest march on December 12. In their own words, the NTAC will, referring to capitalism, “show a dead system how to die”.

Some 30,000 protesters are expected to march from the Danish Parliament to the Bella Center where the Climate Conference is taking place.

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