Interview by Martin Hoffmann, ECPMF

Journalists are part of the enemy imagery

Andreas Loepki, Head of the executive office of the police department in Leipzig. He is responsible for press office, internal investigations, complaint system, minor interpellations from the German Landtag and controlling. Since 2005, he has been in charge in various functions within the police department of Leipzig. Head of the executive office since 2014.

Andreas Loepki Andreas Loepki (Photo: Martin Hoffmann)

Can journalists assume that, the investigative work on events like PEGIDA, LEGIDA or other right-wing populist events, is protected by the police?

Journalists can assume that the police pays attention so that their work can be done as freely as possible. We are not capable to give every journalist personal protection. It is known that the –GIDA movement defines the current media as well as its representatives in a way as an enemy imagery. If journalists come close or mix with the participants, they will thus answer with aggressive behavior. We pointed out that we expect that journalists understand this situation. As journalist, I do not have to force myself to mingle with the participants, what can be seen as provocative, offensive behavior – at least by this clientele.

You see it as a provocation to ask the people why they are there? Journalism has to ask questions.

Of course, from my perspective it is not a provocation. What is clear, however, the participant’s perception is mainly like this. In particular in the action areas of LEGIDA. The participant group differs from PEGIDA. We have more “football-clientele”. From our perspective, LEGIDA is much more “right-wing”. There were incidents in Leipzig since the start of the movement in January 2015 where journalists have explicitly been attacked.

Let´s come straight to the point when the incidents in January happened. At that time, journalists were threatened, attacked and spat on. Partly, they were standing next to the police and did not get any protection. They were insulted and spat on.

The 21st January was an inglorious culmination. In fact, there were attacks against journalists during the first march in the inner-city of Leipzig. At least they chased and attack them verbally. They tried to kick them. Back then a lot of articles were published. The police were heavily criticized – with justification. We were not prepared for this situation. We were in the unfavorable situation, that we only got to know the direction of the march route shortly before the beginning. We did not react strong enough. This we admit.

From the portrayals of the affected journalists we can say that the police was overtaxed, wasn’t it?

I would not say overtaxed. In this very moment, we did not have the capacity of policemen in the area of the Trinitatis church, when they were running to the journalists, to bring them down. We did not see this coming and improved those weak points afterwards.

What lessons can be learnt by the police in Leipzig, in particular to protect journalists? For instance, do you train your task force successively?

Self-detected incidents and complaints received of the journalists were reason enough to explicitly instruct our police officers in charge of the route and demonstration safety, so the area where there are journalists. Our police officers instruct their colleagues about the right performance in interaction with journalists. about rights journalist do have and which they do not have.

The expected attendance of journalists is now a regular discussion point within debriefing sessions?

Not necessarily, but in a situation where journalists are seen as enemies we have to inform our colleagues about the right performance and how they have to communicate.

You repetitively emphasize the journalist as an enemy imagery. What do you know about the perpetrators?

I cannot give you a specific answer, just that they were participants of the LEGIDA march back then. We received just a few charges against unknown persons, even though, obtaining information based from the press, there were more offences on the 21st January. At the moment investigations cover only single charges against unknown offenders.

Who are the aggressors? Is there an overall picture of the situation? Are findings collected separately? Is there any ongoing investigation in social networks?

No. We neither do control the meetings, nor the access or check identities. The participants use their constitutional rights, even if the input at the meeting and opinions are valiant. However, through the inside knowledge of our staff we noticed that a bunch of people assigns to the “football-clientele”. We do not check target-oriented how many of them are football fans or partisans of extreme right-wing parties. We are anyway not allowed to do so.

From what we know so far, the offenders are not associate with the group of “concerned citizens”. Do you have evidence that the right-wing extremists are particularly present in this context?

It is indisputable that at almost every LEGIDA- event there are individuals and small groups which are willing to use violence. Surely there are those which cannot be identified as “concerned citizens”. But there are no specific events in the direction the question implies. It is to mention that group dynamic effects lead to uninhibited reactions among inconspicuous coevals. Thus, the danger arises to be attacked verbally or physically by this group of people. There are similar developments of violently acting individuals and groups among the counter protesters, in particular in Leipzig. acting violently individuals and groups.

If we look at the number of assaults on journalists and politicians, also with a view on the attack on the Minister of Justice, Gemkow’s apartment – do you see a tendency towards violence?

We definitely see this tendency. In fact, the debates which should be held on the political level, with argumentations, are not held anymore. There were massive attacks against apartments of NPD cadres during the electoral campaign for the Stadtrat. Now it apparently happens to the counter side. Liberals and politician from the centre got threatened. That is alarming. Nobody had foreseen this situation three of four years ago. But now it is reality.

Did the police warn journalists, media representatives or publishing houses over the last one, two years because they were or are massively threatened?

Regarding, the area of responsibility in Leipzig I can deny that any written advice was handed out. But we informed journalists and editorial staff through our press conferences that within the GIDA-movements journalists are part of the enemy imagery.

Is stronger protection for media houses, editorial offices or individual branches provided?

We have seen attacks on press related organs. As far as I know, the Leipziger Volkszeitung in Borna and Eilenburg were attacked. We take it into account with increased presence. Our personal capacity is still limited and we are not able to be anytime everywhere.

Rainer Wendt, president of the police trade union, said, regarding the incidents during the demonstrations that Saxony has to stop the downsizing of the police. Is there a correlation between the staff reduction within the police and the increased number of threats?

The police direction in Leipzig did not keep it a secret that the ongoing police structure reforms have a negative impact. Nonetheless, the rise of the PEGIDA movement was not foreseeable. I even doubt it would be a different situation without the police structure reforms, at least regarding the mission situation.

Journalists got spat on. Is not it a sign for overtaxing of the police forces if they stand directly aside?

The concrete situation is indeed questionable, if it happened. Those are grounds of appeal or even obstruction of punishment in a Public Office. In my opinion it is not a structural overtaxing, but rather a misconduct of individuals.

Is there a separate investigation regarding the attacks on journalists and media representatives?

If somebody gets attacked, we register the profession, also of journalists, but the problem is the research-criterion. Our collection system, the “integrated workflow” is intended to record crimes and sort it according to our crime statistics. The profession is not listed as an important criterion. The research and filtering is often difficult. This area is covered by the state security who can analyse this manually.

I also ask because, the attacks on journalists do not appear in the press releases following the demonstrations. Why do they rarely appear?

Press releases underlie a temporal restriction. Demonstrations or events do not end when everybody is going home. We receive complaints and indications days, weeks, months after the assembly. Therefore press releases cannot be a final report.