A demonstrator against government pandemic restrictions is seen in in Berlin, Germany, on August 1, 2020. Demonstrators have harassed journalists covering the protests. (Reuters/Christian Mang)

Demonstrators attack, obstruct journalists covering protests against COVID-19 lockdown in Germany

Since mid-July, 2020, German protesters against the country’s COVID-19 restrictions have attacked journalists covering their demonstrations, according to news reports and videos of the incidents shared on social media.

On July 17, at a protest in the town of Weiden, Bavaria, protesters harassed Beate Josefine Luber, a local freelance reporter covering the demonstrations for regional news website Onetz, according to German public radio Deutschlandfunk and a report by Onetz.

Demonstrators and private security personnel hired by the protesters covered Luber’s camera with their hands, shoved her, and shouted “Luber out!” according to those reports and video of the incident shared on social media. One of the demonstrators threatened to sue her for disrupting the protest, her employer reported. Luber told Onetz that she was subjected to severe physical and mental harassment, but said she had simply done her job.

Local city councilor Sonja Schuhmacher, who organized the July 17 demonstration, told Onetz that Luber had not complied with a request to refrain from taking pictures without protesters’ consent, and said her behavior was perceived as “aggressive” by many participants.

In a statement emailed to CPJ, the Weiden municipal council denied that there had been any ban on photography at the protests.

CPJ emailed the Bavarian police and Schuhmacher for comment, but did not receive any replies.

On July 26, a protester at a rally near Bautzen, in Saxony, approached a crew working for Spiegel-TV, a video program by the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel, yelled at them, and tried to block their camera and punch the team’s reporter, according to video from the outlet and a report by German daily Die Welt.

The Spiegel-TV crew was identified as journalists Adrian Altmayer, Adrian-Basil Mueller, and Henrik Neumann, according to that video. No injuries were reported.

On August 21, the press department of the police in Saxony told CPJ via email that authorities had identified a suspect in the incident.

On August 1, during an anti-lockdown demonstration of around 20 thousand people in Berlin, a team from public television station ZDF decided to stop its reporting, citing security concerns relating to the crowd, according to a report by Der Spiegel.

ZDF reporter Dunja Hayali documented the incident in a video that she published on Instagram. The recording shows demonstrators shouting at her and the ZDF team, getting very close to the reporters without wearing masks, shouting insults, and calling them “Lügenpresse” (lying press), a pejorative political term used in recent years by far-right political movements.

The video also depicts the TV crew’s security detail advising Hayali to stop reporting due to the behavior of the crowd.

The demonstration was later disbanded by the police as demonstrators were not respecting COVID-19 security measures imposed by the government, according to reports.

CPJ emailed the Berlin police for comment but did not receive any reply.