(CN) – German police and courts were not justified in preemptively arresting two young men and holding them in jail for five days during the G8 summit near Rostock in 2007, Europe’s human rights court ruled.
Police arrested the two German nationals after they allegedly resisted an identity check while standing next to a van with others in front of a prison near Rostock.
The police based their arrest on having found banners with the slogans “freedom for all prisoners” and “free all now” in the van. By making the arrests, the police said they prevented the men from inciting others to free prisoners, which is illegal.
But the men argued that the signs were not meant to literally incite people to violently free prisoners. They instead defined the signs as statements urging the police “to end the numerous arrests and detentions of demonstrators.”
The courts set a release date for the men after the end of the demonstrations. A court denied the arrestees’ appeals for an earlier release, saying the detention was justified to prevent the men from displaying the allegedly inflammatory banners at the actions in Rostock, where protesters had been clashing with police.
Though the men were never convicted of any offense, the German Constitutional Court refused to hear the case, leading the men to seek relief from the European Court of Human Rights in 2008.
Based in Strasbourg, France, the human rights court found that the German police and courts had violated the men’s right to liberty and freedom of assembly.
Since the police never found definitive proof that the men intended to commit violence, such as weapons, making the arrests had been unnecessary, according to the court.
The police could have taken other measures to prevent possible participation in violence, such as seizing the banners or barring the men from entering Rostock, the court added.
Moreover, the banners could very well have been intended metaphorically, it continued.
Detaining the men for five days had prevented their participation in the protests, thus inhibiting their freedom of assembly, the decision states.
Criticizing the effects of globalization is legitimately in the public interest, according to the court.
The Strasbourg tribunal ordered Germany to pay each man about $10,000 for costs and damages.