Ten years after fans of German side 1860 Munich were attacked and injured by masked special forces of Munich police out of the blue, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided in favour of their complaint. But did only two fans pursue legal action? Because the others were afraid of taking legal action against the police.
We interviewed Herbert Schröger from ‘Löwenfans gegen Rechts’ about the German executive, judiciary, and legislative’s response.
FSE: Can you please tell us what happened after the derby of Bayern Munich’s and 1860’s second teams and why you went through the courts to obtain a judgement?
Herbert Schröger (HS): After the match, fans had to wait for a long time until being allowed to leave our sector. When they left police attacked them with batons and pepper spray without cause. They had placed a cordon behind the sector and the supporters had to go through whilst being hit. Injured people, bleeding, laying on the floor. The situation was marked by chaos, fear and police forces rushing back and forth, jabbing people. As the exits to the street still were locked, there was no chance to get away and leave the stadium in the beginning. Fans had no influence on the situation and it was only a matter luck that no one was injured. Even after the main gates were opened, the nightmare did not stop – fans were attacked again, with one person even being punched over a handrail down the ‘Giesinger Berg’ [name of a street near the stadium]. Even those who were lucky enough not to be injured went home shocked and traumatized and to add insult to injury had to read the following quote from the police report in Munich’s daily newspapers the next day:
“There have been no significant incidents around the Amateur derby.“
Even today anyone who was there has his/her own story to tell and won’t be able to forget this evening. Nonetheless, ‘Löwenfans gegen Rechts’ could not find more than two directly affected people brave enough for the intended class action. In many conversations with others the following reasons were given:
In the case of a complaint/charge people were afraid of “getting into even more trouble with the police“ and worried that “at the end nothing will come of it“.
These statements encouraged us to go through the courts to prove them wrong and to strengthen people’s confidence in democracy and the rule of law.
FSE: The investigation took a long time and have not been sufficient. What was the EHRC’s concrete point of criticism?
HS: The investigation concluded with the explanation that an identification of the unmarked officers was impossible. Furthermore, video footage of the incidents almost completely disappeared from two different safes at two different police stations which were accessible for only a few persons with special keys. Every hard disk had been cleared professionally and irretrievably. The “leftovers“ which were sent to the lawyer of the complainant were notably potted and edited. There was even the handwritten remark “cuttings“ on it.
The complainant’s motion to clarify the remainder of the footage and to question all officers and paramedics who had been in service on that day had been dismissed.
In its judgement EHRC clarified that police officers in this kind of operations have to be identifiable. If this is not the case the measurement for investigations in cases of police violence have to be as high as possible. Hence, every possible angle of investigation has to be followed and the investigators have to be independent and not linked to the accused officers. In the present proceeding this was not the case due to the disappearance of the video footage and due to the lack of questioning of every relevant person involved. That is why Germany was convicted.
FSE: What does the judgement mean for the German police? Will a labelling requirement for police officers be introduced?
HS: The judgement cannot force Germany to introduce mandatory labelling/identification and the Bavarian Interior Ministry has already said that they want to stick with their practice of unidentifiable officers. Nevertheless, politically it is a strong argument for the labelling requirement and will likely facilitate charges/complaints after future incidents as a precedential case.
FSE: Does the judgement have any impact on Europe? For example, Spain where police violence appears to be an acute issue?
HS: Basically it has the same impact. But the judgement is in line with other decisions of the EHRC (once against Bulgaria, three times against Turkey), containing the explicit demand for a labelling requirement by the court.
Picture: Anne Wild