Center MP: Authorities misjudged public mood during protests

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Jaanus Karilaid. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Center MP and chair of the Riigikogu's legal affairs committee Jaanus Karilaid (Center) says that mistakes were made in risk assessments during a recent anti-lockdown protest in Tallinn. At the same time, the MP said public trust in the police remained high, while government communication issues also played their part, as did the spread of misinformation by those hell-bent on fomenting discord.

Appearing on ERR discussion show "Otse uudistemajast" Wednesday, Kariland said that: "Without a doubt, the government should have sent a clearer message that with the bill, we will in fact be improving cooperation between the police and the health board."

The bill Karilaid was referring to was the very piece of legislation being protested, namely amends to the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (NETS), which would increase Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) powers in cooperating with other authorities, particularly the Health Board (Terviseamet) in policing violations of COVID-19 restrictions.

The perception of many protesters was that the bill will grant too strong powers to the PPA, a point that became a self-fulfilling prophecy as, by turns, the PPA installed barriers outside the Riigikogu – the legislature and the very place where the bill amendments are being tabled – in order to disperse crowds, at their peak numbering around 100, and diverting them to Vabaduse väljak, scene of Sunday's protest.

Several people were detained as a result of either flouting regulations or insulting the PPA, mainly via painted placards, it is reported. Health Board personnel present also issued precepts for non-compliance with restrictions.

Karilaid said the risk assessment of the event had missed the mark.

"I think there was a mistake in the threat assessment. The goal was a noble one, but it didn't end up looking good visually. The police themselves were also in the wrong," he said.

This was a blip though, Karilaid went on to say.

"In general, the Estonian police have acted very adequately, and well. It was a disproportionate [use of force] at that point in time. It could have been the case that a major provocation was expected but didn't materialize, we can't be sure [that that wasn't the case," Karilaid added, saying that as a state governed by the rule of law, errors can be ironed out and those responsible, including the PPA, can be held to account if needed.

"The police are the greatest allies of Estonian society next to doctors and teachers. Trust in them is high," he went on.

Misinformation stating that the PPA would begin to forcibly take away the sick or people's children away from the home, which may have fanned the flames of the outcry over the NETS amendment, was regrettable, Karilaid added.

"Give me an example where the police have unreasonably broken down anyone's doors in the past 30 years," he said, adding that even if the PPA were to do so, legislation is in place which would allow damages to be recovered in the courts.

A better use of the media would be to explain how the NETS amendment will make the situation better in Estonia.

At the same time, free speech remained an intact right, Karilaid said, noting that while many of the protestors were well-meaning, there were those with political motives, including members of an opposition party (meaning EKRE – ed.) or their supporters, who had aimed at stirring up discontent.

The amendments to the NETs will go ahead in parliament, Karilaid went on.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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