May 15, 2020

Violence has unleashed against German journalists covering demonstrations in three major cities

Comedian and ZDF reporter Abdelkarim Zemhoute after the attack in Berlin. ODD ANDERSEN / AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears that the repeated assaults against journalists in Germany will have a chilling effect on the media. The most violent attack took place on May 1 at a protest in the German capital, leaving four journalists injured, but similar incidents occurred also at other demonstrations in Berlin, Dortmund and Hamburg.

Since 1 May, reporters from various German audio-visual media have been targeted by physical attacks at protests against the anti-coronavirus restrictions and at the May Day demonstrations. 

On the May Day in Berlin, the camera crew of the public broadcaster ZDF was brutally assaulted by a group of masked people. According to the Berlin police, the victims were beaten with a metal bar and kicked. One of the journalists lost consciousness and a total of four had to be brought to hospital with injuries. The reporters, accompanied by security guards, were producing a material for the satirical programme “Heute Show” at the so-called “Hygiene-Demo”, a protest against government’s sanitary measures to contain COVID-19. 

The Federal Criminal Police Office is now investigating a group of around 15 persons, some of them with links to the left-wing scene. Law-enforcement bodies suspect the aggressors targeted specifically ZDF employees. Just one day before the attack, the German conspiracy theory website KenFM had announced that the crew of the public television would be present at the event.

The most recent attack took place on 9 May in Dortmund. While two journalists from the public broadcaster WDR were filming a demonstration against the anti-coronavirus restrictions, a man, belonging allegedly to an extreme-right group, attempted to knock down their camera. As a result, one journalist suffered minor head injuries.

Three days earlier, the camera crew of the public broadcaster ARD was attacked at a protest against the COVID-19 measures outside the Parliament building in Berlin. Targeting the sound technician, a man kicked instead in the boom arm which, in turn, hit the cameraman’s head. The suspect is now under investigation.

Journalists were also victims of violence on the margins of the May Day demonstrations. In Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, a female journalist suffered a head injury when a police officer punched her, according to the police which investigates the attack. The journalist working for a news agency producing television images believes she was targeted “deliberately”

Finally, at a 1 May demonstration in Hamburg, a bottle was thrown at a cameraman working for the Blaulicht News agency. Causing the man head injuries, the presumed attacker managed to flee and is searched by the police.   

Those, who attack journalists, attack also press freedom. Especially in times of a pandemic, media workers must be able to report freely and without fear of violence in order to keep the public informed and contribute to guarantee the freedom of opinion,” said Christian Mihr, Executive Director of RSF Germany. “We fear that the recent attacks will unsettle media workers and deter them from reporting on demonstrations.”   

Germany is ranked on 11th place out of 180 in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

Read a comprehensive report by RSF Germany on press freedom in the country from March 2020: https://www.reporter-ohne-gren...