Experts consider police use of force at protests excessive

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Protesters at the Riigikogu building at Toompea. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

University of Tartu criminology professor Jaan Ginter said the use of force by police at recent protests in Tallinn has been excessive. Former interior minister Ain Seppik assessed that the situation cannot be resolved with police.

University of Tartu criminology professor Jaan Ginter said that when barriers were placed to disperse protesters at Toompea Castle over the weekend, he thought the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) must have conducted a risk assessment which showed there was danger of a situation similar to the storming of the U.S. Capitol building in January.

"If there was such a risk assessment, a reliable one, then this would have been acceptable. Now, if this was the reaction to the few protesters, it was overkill," Ginter said.

On Sunday, the protesters were dispersed from the square in front of the Riigikogu building in Toompea and moved onto the nearby Freedom Square (Vabaduse Väljak) with the police following them. Videos posted on social media from the protests show that the police officers mostly explained dispersion rules and distancing but also intervened with force in some cases.

"Perhaps they thought they would demonstrate force and then people would not come out. I do not believe this demonstration of force was very necessary and I really tend to think this will instead irritate the protesters," Ginter added.

PPA representatives assessed that since the threat to public order had gradually increased during demonstrations, sending officers out in high numbers was necessary.

"The Health Board has asked the police for help in helping check and maintain norms established on public gatherings. All public gatherings are still allowed if 10 people gather and they are dispersed. The dispersion is what the police is managing there," said PPA Northern Prefecture crisis chief Valdo Põder.

Põder added that there have been 10 misdemeanor proceedings initiated so far, two have been penalized - one for a traffic offense and another for insulting an officer.

"The danger to public order is slowly increasing. And as I say, there have been provocateurs present, there have been people who insult the police and we have assessed our dangers and have responded adequately," the PPA representative said.

Former police chief and interior minister Ain Seppik does not doubt the professionalism of police officers. He did however note that the tensions caused by the pandemic and their manifestation cannot be resolved by the police.

"The police with barriers and batons, along with a fully equipped riot police, have been sent out now. This does not solve the situation, it will not please the people and ultimately, the people lean on the constitution with their freedom of expression currently significantly restricted," Seppik said.

"People can express their opinions, but what is important, is that people who come to express their opinion follow the rules currently established in Estonia and these rules are established so that people would remain healthy," said Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani.

On Monday, far fewer people showed up for the protests than in days prior. 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.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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