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Denmark: Court Upholds Decision in Mass Arrests Case

(Jan. 26, 2012) In a January 25, 2012, ruling, a Danish court upheld a lower court decision that found that police had acted improperly in carrying out mass arrests at a 2009 demonstration. In 2011, the Copenhagen City Court had found the arrests, involving 968 demonstrators at the December 13, 2009, United Nations climate change conference, to be in violation of article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Once detained, the demonstrators had been forced to sit on a cold, asphalt surface for several hours. Article 3 of the Convention states, “[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (Climate Conference Mass Arrests Illegal, Court Upholds, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Jan. 25, 2012); Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (in force from Sept. 3, 1953), Council of Europe website.)

The original decision, which the police had appealed, awarded 9,000 kroner (about US$1,575) to each person detained, but the new decision reduces that amount to 2,200 to 3,300 kroner, with the exact amount for each detainee determined based on the length of time spent in the cold. Although about 250 people lodged complaints about their treatment at the time, only the 178 who were made to sit outside in the cold are entitled to the payments. (Climate Conference Mass Arrests Illegal, Court Upholds, supra.)

Despite the two decisions criticizing how the demonstrators were handled, the Danish police maintain that they took the proper actions to handle the incident. According to Police Commissioner Johan Reimann, “[w]e did what was right in the situation by taking decisive action.” Reimann did say, however, that the police regretted the arrests of those who were innocent of wrongdoing, including bystanders. (Id.)

In addition to the ruling on the treatment of the detainees, the higher court decision reflected on the strategy of the police of detaining individuals before the demonstration could get out of control. These preventive arrests, which resulted in the detention of a large number of innocent demonstrators, were called unnecessary by the court. The police had argued that the detainees had pasts that indicated they were likely to make trouble, but the court ruled this insufficient justification for the police actions. (Id.)

The arrests had been made under a special powers provision contained in a law adopted prior to the demonstrations. It has been reported that the government is reviewing whether those arrest powers should be dropped. (Id.)