According to German media, around 20,000 protesters attended the demonstration – including people criticising the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as people from far-right parties including the extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Many were not wearing face masks and flaunted social distancing rules. As the protest was stopped by the police due to the unexpected number of participants, several protesters clashed with officers, and alsod targeted journalists on assignment, who were abused and prevented from carrying out their work.
Many were repeatedly threatened with violence, while others were chased and physically attacked. Protesters tried to grab microphones, cameras and other equipment. On several occasions, the police did not intervene or even impeded journalists' work.
In one case, officers threatened to arrest a journalist, withheld his press card and said they would make “sure [the journalist] would not get a new one”.
It was reported that the police complained about the presence of the press and threatened to use force against journalists if they did not leave as they were clearing Augustusplatz, stating that “we do not differentiate between protesters and journalists”.
Video footage showing police officers recording names and dates of birth of a number of journalists – allegedly for filming with telephoto lenses – was shared on social media. Journalists were also told to stop taking portraits as this would “provoke the participants of the Querdenken demonstration”.
The federal chair of the German journalists’ association DJV, Frank Überallsaid the interior ministers had failed to inform the police officers (from a number of German states) about the rights of journalists and the need to protect press freedom as a fundamental right: “The task of the police is to protect freedom of the press and journalists – especially when targeted by Nazis and Covid deniers.”
Although violence against journalists has been seen in a number of similar protests across Germany, Tina Grollchair of media union dju in ver.di added that in this protest, the phenomenon had reached a new dynamic and magnitude: “This is a dangerous development for democracy and an alarm signal for those who are politically responsible. It must be ensured that journalists can report on demonstrations like the one in Leipzig without fear and unhindered”. She also stated that a number of press representatives had reached out to the union, stating that they decided not to report from the demonstration due to security concerns.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “It is alarming to see that protests are increasingly characterized by hostility and violence towards the press. The police must not exacerbate this development but ensure that journalists are able to report freely and without fear.”