The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) will limit access and disperse people to groups of 10 in front of the Riigikogu building at Toompea as a demonstration against amendments to legislation and coronavirus restrictions is planned for Friday afternoon.
The police have monitored public gatherings at the Lossi Square for the last few days and have directed people to follow distancing regulations, the Health Board announced on Friday. While sufficient distance was ensured to start the week, more than 200 people have taken part in the demonstrations in recent days and participants have not followed distancing regulations.
"According to the Health Board's safety forecasts, more than 10 people gathering is a danger for the active spread of the coronavirus. Considering that the COVID-19 virus requires hospitalization and can end in death, it is a danger to peoples' lives," said Health Board director Üllar Lanno.
"To solve the situation, dispersion must be ensured, which will protect those who are setting the lives of themselves and others in danger due to their ignorance. The infection curve has turned downward and significantly fewer people are infected as a result of following rules. This is why it is extremely important that people would understand that stopping the spread depends on every single individual," Lanno continued.
PPA Northern Prefecture crisis chief Valdo Põder said the police has allowed public gatherings on the condition that people maintain distance from one another. "We have emphasized this to the more active participants and have directed peoples' attention to maintaining distance, if necessary. Currently, there are no organizers for these gatherings and it is noticeable that restrictions are not followed to avoid the risk of infection," Põder said.
The police officers on location will direct people into groups of 10, as restrictions say.
The public gatherings that have taken place on Lossi Square each week have not been registered as such with the PPA and there is no official organizer or person responsible for the event, responsible for meeting requirements and the safety of participants. Two misdemeanor proceedings have also been initiated as a result of these gatherings.
"Holding public gatherings and expressing opinions is a constitutional right that is not forbidden in a healthcare emergency. We need to follow the established restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, however. Currently, up to ten people can gather if they maintain distance," Põder said.
The police will also explain the currently established restrictions to protesters and will direct people to follow the regulations. There are Health Board representatives also at Toompea. The police will also intervene if the demonstration poses a threat to public order, participants or other peoples' safety.
On Thursday, a few hundred people gathered at Toompea to protest against coronavirus restrictions but the main cause of the demonstrations is amendments to the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act, processed in the Riigikogu. Legal experts have confirmed that the protesters' fear of Estonia becoming a "police state" is unfounded and the amendments would make minimal changes to legislation.
PPA open proceedings against four people
The PPA has opened proceedings against four people who violated public order, two on Friday and two previously.
"Police have previously initiated two misdemeanor proceedings for violations of the requirements for holding public meetings at the Lossi Square protests because the meetings were unregistered, the sound was amplified and there was no designated steward responsible for the safety of participants," Põder told ERR.
In one case, a 42-year-old man insulted police officers. The man admitted his violation and was fined €200.
In the second case, the police initiated misdemeanor proceedings after the requirements to hold a public meeting were not met.
"We explained to a 50-year-old man who had called for a gathering on social media, what are the requirements for organizing a public meeting and the applicable restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus," Põder added. A fine can be issued for up to €800.
The Health Board, which monitors compliances such as wearing a mask and following social distancing rules, has not initiated any proceedings.
The police have not initiated proceedings against a person who threatened Riigikogu member Jürgen Ligi (Reform) on social media.
"We take threats very seriously, we contact the people making threats very quickly, we talk, we try to find out the real threat level and we react accordingly. If necessary, we will start a procedure," Põder said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to add quotes from Valdo Põder and information about the opening of proceedings against four people.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Helen Wright