The German government chastised thousands of people, who gathered in Berlin, at the weekend to protest coronavirus restrictions, as packed crowds in the capital stoked fears of a spike in infections.
“The scenes that we had to see at the weekend are unacceptable,’’ deputy government spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, told reporters on Monday.
“The behavior of many demonstrators is in no way justified and exploits the great good of the freedom to demonstrate,’’ she added.
Demmer condemned “serious violations of the hygiene rules’’ as well as hate speech, noting also that protesters prevented journalists from doing their job.
She also urged people who joined the event to consider what it means to walk side-by-side with supporters of rightist ideologies and conspiracy theories.
The German government official also criticized people, for not only risking their own health, but also the health of others.
Police said up to 17,000 people took part in a march against coronavirus restrictions in the capital on Saturday, with a subsequent rally attracting a crowd of some 20,000.
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Because many participants were not keeping the required distance from one another or wearing masks, police broke up the event in the early evening.
The demonstration, billed as a “Day of Freedom”, was organized by “Querdenken 711” (Lateral Thinking 711), an initiative that has staged multiple protests against coronavirus rules.
Querdenken 711 has been linked to right-wing populist groups and conspiracy theorists.
“Day of Freedom” is also the title of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 Nazi propaganda film.
Saturday’s mass protest prompted debate on to what extent the right to protest should be restricted during the pandemic.
“Peaceful demonstrations are of course also very important in these very trying times,’’ Demmer said.
Justice Minister, Christine Lambrecht, stressed that rules must be followed at such events in order to limit coronavirus infections and so as not to endanger others.
“I have no understanding for demonstrators who arrogantly defy this,’’ Lambrecht was quoted by the Monday edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper as saying.
Armin Schuster, an expert for interior affairs in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), suggested banning mass demonstrations altogether.
Schuster said it would be appropriate “to permit such demonstrations only under far stricter constraints or not at all,’’ in comments to the Rheinische Post newspaper.
The protesters found support from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right party and the largest opposition force in parliament.
“I see no wrong behavior,’’ AfD co-leader, Tino Chrupalla, told the ARD broadcaster, noting that people took to the streets peacefully to defend their civil rights.
“And that can only be welcomed.’’
Germany introduced sweeping restrictions in mid-March, most of which have been gradually lifted or eased since May.
Masks have since been made compulsory in shops and on public transport.
Testing is also being rolled out for holidaymakers and will in some cases be mandatory.
A spike in new cases has caused concern in recent weeks, after the number of infections reported daily stayed below 500 earlier last month, but rose to over 900 on Saturday, the day of the march and rally.
Early on Monday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for disease control confirmed the latest daily rise of 509, bringing Germany’s total confirmed caseload so far to 210,402.
The government agency reported a total death toll of 9,148 while some 193,500 people are estimated to have recovered from the virus.
There have been some targeted lockdowns in Germany as regional outbreaks flare-up.
On June 20 and 21, there were riots at a housing complex in the city of Goettingen after residents were ordered to stay in their homes for eight days.
On Monday, the Police said 36 people are facing criminal proceedings in connection with the violence.