Police refute allegation of excessive use of force against protesters

Ljubljana – The police and Interior Minister Aleš Hojs have rejected the allegation that excessive force was used to disperse Tuesday’s protest and rioting against coronavirus measures in Ljubljana, as an NGO urged MPs to open a parliamentary inquiry to look into the matter.

The Legal Network for the Protection of Democracy expressed concern on Wednesday over police response to protests in Ljubljana in recent weeks and the use of measures such as tear gas, water cannon, cavalry and police dogs against protesters.

The group infers from posts on social media that at least one person was injured during the police intervention, which they said continued even after the person was lying on the ground.

It quoted witness reports, including by journalists, which suggest the police yesterday “used tear gas indiscriminately all over the place and in large amounts, allegedly it was even mixed with water in the water cannon”.

The organisation urged the police to “look into that and potential other instances of alleged overstepping of powers and hold the perpetrators accountable”, and to report when, how and in what cases force was used.

The network also called on MPs to appoint a parliamentary inquiry to examine whether the government’s decision to invoke a special article in the police powers act to restrict movement in Ljubljana and some other places ahead of an EU summit was warranted.

The inquiry should also examine whether the use of coercive measures was lawful and in case of violations hold officials politically accountable.

The police authorities and Interior Minister Aleš Hojs refuted the allegation of excessive use of force and coercive means as completely unfounded.

However, Alojz Sladič of the General Police Administration confirmed at a press conference today that the police had used a jet of water mixed with tear gas at several spots yesterday, along with 400 gas bullets and grenades.

But he said it was not true they fired tear gas from a helicopter.

He argued that the use of gas was proportionate as it did not harm people but was effective in deterring groups and individuals from continuing with rioting.

He said coercive means were applied in response to attempts at obstructing police work and as objects such as cobblestones were thrown into police and their vehicles; six officers were lightly injured.

Meanwhile, Hojs, speaking on the sidelines of a Home Policy Committee session in parliament, said he was “saddened that we’ve again witnessed vandalism, primitivism and rioting, damaging of property in the streets of Ljubljana.”

The minister lauded the police for their response in particular during the last couple of days as the government activated additional legislative provisions to ensure the safety of all participants in the EU summit.

He said that given the developments in Ljubljana yesterday he was surprised more people had not been apprehended. “The water cannon was used only where there was blatant violation of the public peace and order, which in my view also involved criminal acts.”

Hojs said police were dealing with the protest organisers and to his knowledge the prosecution was fully involved. He believes this time “the matter will be brought to suitable conclusions also in legal procedure”.

Chaotic scenes unfolded in Ljubljana on Tuesday as protesters opposing the Covid pass mandate gathered in the square in front of the parliament building before setting off to march around the capital as police intervened with water cannon and tear gas to disperse them and prevent them from blocking the city’s main throughfares like they did a week ago.

Protest organiser Zoran Stevanović was among those arrested according to his party, and the rapper Zlatko was apprehended in front of the cameras after urging the crowd to start marching around the city.

Police would not provide the details but said several thousand officers were deployed to secure peace and order. According to the police, the crowd of protesters initially numbered around 3,000 and was joined by more people as the march around the city began.

Police presence around the parliamentary building is also increased today in light of indications on social networks that protests could repeat in the centre of Ljubljana today.

Police said three persons were arrested on suspicion of criminal acts and another 22 were detained for the duration of the protests. Information so far indicates two persons required medical aid for inhaling tear gas and six officers sustained light injuries.

Sladič from the General Police Administration said the trio were arrested on suspicion of incitement to revolt and obstructing police work. Two of them remain detained whilst inquiries continue, while the third was released and is now in hospital.

He said one of the persons had reported at a police station in Gorenjska of their own accord but due to reasonable suspension that the person had committed a crime the person was kept in police custody.

He said the protesters included violent groups, including football hooligans, while passers-by were affected because rioters were active at several locations at the same time.

He said the police had responded based on its own professional decisions and “without any influence from politics or dictates how and when to act”.