Interview by Martin Hoffmann, ECPMF

"The police could not cope"

Merten Waage is a 24 years old radio editor. Since November 2014 he works for mephisto 97.6, the radio-station of the University of Leipzig. He is responsible editor of the Feuilleton broadcast "Kultstatus". He studies political sciences, German and radio journalism.

Merten Waage Merten Waage (photo: Christoph Pährisch)

Can you describe what happened that evening, when you suffered threats, insults and persecution while covering a Legida-demonstration in Leipzig?

On 21stJanuary 2015 it was the first time that lots of participants were expected to join Legida-demonstration. We had therefore decided with the editorial board to cover this right-populist protest and to report directly from there, not only in the leftist counter-demonstration as before. So I went to Augustusplatz to ask the Legida-participants why they demonstrate there, some minutes before the march started from there.

How did the participants respond to your questions in this moment?

They quickly started to insult me and stated that I just want to report negatively, that I would only look for something to make them look bad. That was absolute nonsense. I have not asked them why they demonstrate there together with neo-Nazis, for example, but only why they follow the demonstration.

Can you repeat exactly what you have asked them?

I always started with the question why they are now part of this demonstration. Whether they are there out of the fear of Islamization, or whether they have other issues. Almost no one responded to my questions. Actually, they most of them stated: “Now you want snap sounds that you can cut.” I just said I'm sorry, I'm from the local radio station mephisto, we do not plan to do so. Then some of them started to reply to my question, saying, for example, that they were dissatisfied with the pension system.

You were attacked later. Was the level of aggression rising from the beginning?

There was no development. As the march started, we stood between the policemen, who started walking forward, and the people who held this big Legida-banner at the head of the demonstration. Then insults got worse, for example, - it’s vulgar - "you Journalistenfotze". Then I was spat on at the back - and the police officer who was standing right next to me did nothing.

Were you clearly to identify as a journalist then?

I wore a radio mephisto jacket and had a microphone with a ribbon of Mephisto. It was obvious that I belonged to the press, there was nothing hidden.

But the policeman didn’t do anything?

No. I said "Excuse me, what is happening here?" Then the police officer: "Can you tell me who that was?" But as someone spat on my neck, I could not. From then on we were molested constantly with "Switch the micro off" or "What do you want here? ", but we could do our job. It then became really bad when a counter-protester jumped over the barricades and showed a rainbow flag.

What happened then?

At this moment, about thirty to forty men or women − they disguised themselves that moment − came forward and stood in the front row, very vulgar and aggressive. A little further on, the road was very wide. There, these people have split from the demonstration and I was unfortunately exactly in between them. The police had not considered that the route gave them this big space. That was my problem. I had just continued recording with my microphone, but suddenly I was there without any police in front of these people. They freaked out and shouted "Now we'll get you." Then the raid began. I just started to run, 150 meters or so to get behind a wall of police-men, together with some other journalists. When I arrived there, the policemen did not let us pass, because they have not figured what was going on there. I said "We were attacked, what's going on here, what is this?" But they were so rigid. They simply could not cope with the situation.

Can you describe again how many journalists were involved in this situation?

I was three meters away from the Legida protesters. As a radio journalist, I had to remain relatively close for my sound bites. Next to me there was the colleague with the photo camera, and a video journalist was a bit behind us.

How did the video-journalist got out of it?

He was kicked and fell, but because he just did not get away as fast as me with the camera. I have only seen in the race that he was caught, and that someone was faster than him. Luckily I had only my microphone.

And the photographer?

His camera was slapped into the face, he ended in hospital. He really suffered the most. Additionally, his camera was broken.

These other two colleagues were clearly identifiable as journalists? I ask this because one might think that they are probably photographers of the two extremists groups, Antifa and Anti-Antifa, who act indeed very confrontational at such events.

Only journalists were allowed to run between Legida and the police at all, from where we have been covering. They previously checked us. We had to proof that we are journalists showing press IDs, editorial order, all kind of things. Only journalists could walk, where we have been walking.

Have you, as you have wanted protection by the police, clearly identified yourself as press?

Yes of course, I have never put my microphone away. It was always visible that I am reporter of mephisto 97.6 radio station.

When would you say the police were overtaxed?

I believe that it was a situation when journalists are used to have the protection of the police. But the police of Leipzig did not know where they had to enter and react. The riot police have been waiting for the orders of their police commander, but they were in their patrol cars and could not respond appropriately in this moved situation. I stood next to a commander, who has been talking by cell phone. I really stood right next him on the Augustusplatz, and the people came and spat and insulted me. And I just look at him and he says: ‘Yes, is anything?’ I ask him. ‘Haven´t you noticed?’ – ‘Sorry, I was on the phone’, he replied. In this very moment I have lost my faith.

But the police have not turned a blind eye on purpose, did they?

I would only say that they were not sure in their action. Firstly, they have also denied that this happened. We have researched everything the same night in the office. In the morning I called the spokesman of Leipzig police. Then it became clear that they had not figured until then what has happened there on Legida-demonstration. They called me a liar till the moment we have sent them our evidence.

Who has you as accused of lying?

The spokesman said that they had not received any information about harassed journalists and that none of the commanders had reported something. And that it would have been reported by journalists, if it would have happened. Then I said: I have reported, I said that - but it did not reach them at that moment.

This group that has attacked you, may you categorize them?

They have disguised themselves and were clearly searching for counter-demonstrators or anyone to be aggressive or violent against. Alone, that they all react to a sign of one person shouting "go, go" and all are rushing forward is a proof to me. It appeared to me that they have agreed either as a group to act or they have previously planned their action. Indeed they exactly attacked at a place where they could escape from the demonstration. They did not act by chance.

You then reported to the police – are there any findings? At what stage is the criminal investigation now?

We have denounced jointly. There is a photojournalist, whose name I do not want to mention here. He was standing right next to me. For him it is a blatant thing that the police did not want to perceive what happened to him. It took quite a long time until the police understood this and the prosecutor wanted to record it. This colleague did not really want to participate in the beginning. One must also say that we were threatened the next day because of our reporting in the radio station. Some people asked for my name, my address, my phone number. They claimed that I would invent the sound bites. Three weeks ago, the photographer decided to state what happened at the prosecution department. I also understand my colleagues not to go directly to the prosecutor's office. I think he had to force himself. For now, he is also in the media, and his face is shown.

And what kind of offence is going to be investigated?

It's about targeted assault and secondly to property damage.

Has the experience affected your concept of journalism?

I did not go to some Legida or anti-Legida demonstration again. That was too much for me and too extreme, so will not do a live report from there again.

Do you see the freedom of the press affected by these incidents?

Of course, one must have this perspective. At the station we have decided that we only go there with two people, because no one knows, what might happen, whether from left-wing extremists or Legida. Press freedom begins for me at the point, when I can report, what I can see.