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Minister on banning Tartu pro-Palestine demonstration: Police overreacted

"In Solidarity with Palestine" demonstration in Tartu, December 2, 2023. Source: Agnes Joyet

Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said the police overreacted when they banned the Tartu pro-Palestinian demonstration for the reason that people may come with unknown slogans. The police were overly concerned, he said, because persons who were detained and fined after the event in Tallinn were not living in Estonia and came to that demonstration "for purposes other than peacefully supporting Palestine."

"Most importantly, the Constitution of Estonia protects and guarantees people's freedom to express their opinions. And it is the police who must ensure this. This implies that they must ensure the security of everyone, wherever they are and on whatever issue they express their opinion," Läänemets told ERR.

The Police and Border Guard Board banned a public meeting in support of Palestinians in November, citing a legal provision that does not allow meetings inciting hatred and violence (§151-1 of the "Penal Code.") In early December, however, the gathering was allowed to take place.

The police approved the demonstration on December 1 and it took place on December 2.

"I am not aware that there were many reasons to prohibit it. The event did, in the end, take place. As far as I can tell, both the organizers and police misunderstood each other at first, which is how this situation happened. I am sure that the police drew their conclusions from that. In fact, the police are well aware that they have a legal and moral obligation to ensure that everyone has the right to express themselves," Läänemets said.

"In Solidarity with Palestine" demonstration in Tartu, December 2, 2023. Source: Agnes Joyet

Läänemets said that what is going on surrounding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is complicated all over the world and is also taken seriously in Estonia.

"This is one of the reasons that could have had a human impact on the police work. The intention is not to say that no one should speak out, but rather to look at it from a security perspective, to ensure freedom of speech and the ability to speak out, but also to protect the safety of those who are demonstrating and everyone else. And sometimes, humanly speaking, it's possible just to worry too much," Läänemets said.

ERR asked if it could be said that the police misjudged the situation. "I can't say that they misjudged the situation, but sometimes you can be overly concerned," Läänemets said.

"Given what had recently occurred in Tallinn with this demonstration, I understand that there was concern for the safety of the organizers and everyone else. Not all of the demonstrators in Tallinn were people who live in Estonia, and we know that certain people with certain views came from overseas specifically for this event, to say certain messages here. Perhaps there was too much concern in light of that," Läänemets said.

"In Solidarity with Palestine" demonstration in Tartu, December 2, 2023. Source: Agnes Joyet

Andres Ratassepp, deputy chief of the national security agency, told the "Vikerhommik" radio program on Thursday that a representative of the Society of the Muslim Brothers, better known as the Muslim Brotherhood, also took part in the Tallinn demonstration.

The police justified the ban on the Tartu demonstration by stating that the organized gathering could be attended by other residents as well who would bring placards inciting violence.

Läänemets said that this is not a reason to ban the demonstration. "To say that only God knows what will be said – no demonstration should be banned by the police or local authorities on that basis only," the minister said.

ERR also asked Läänemets if he thought the police were justified in fining the five people who were removed from a pro-Palestine demonstration in Tallinn in November.

"I cannot judge the acts of the police; it would be political interference for the minister to decide who can and cannot be penalized. But I understand that the background was the same – persons who were fined had come to the event, and to Estonia, for reasons other than peacefully expressing support for Palestine. This is what the police have been working on," Läänemets said.

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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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