Anti-Covid protest organisers accuse police of initiating violence at riots

Anti-Covid protest organisers accuse police of initiating violence at riots
Credit: Zeb Marichal/ Stamp Media

The activist group behind the authorised protest which turned into a riot on Sunday in Brussels has lodged a complaint against the police for their actions during and after the protest.

Samen voor Vrijheid (in English 'Together for Freedom'), filed the complaint with Committee P, the Belgian body that oversees the police, arguing that the police themselves were the instigators of the riots, which resulted in 44 arrests, three injured police officers, and a lot of damage to public and private property.

"We filed a complaint with Committee P today," Ezra Armakye, spokesperson for Samen voor Vrijheid, confirmed to Belga News Agency.

"The police divided [the protest] in two and then started spraying people with tear gas and water cannons. During the peaceful speech at the Schuman Square they sprayed tear gas and then I had to end the demonstration," said Armakye.

More than 35,000 people took to the streets of Brussels on Sunday to protest against the new coronavirus measures. However, events soon turned sour when small groups started throwing projectiles at the police, which in turn deployed water cannons and tear gas, transforming certain areas in Brussels into a battlefield.

Damaged police vehicles near the riots. Credit: Belga

"Hired rioters"

The organisers published a press release on Monday night in which they stated that they regretted what happened following the protest. They disassociated themselves from the damage caused and regretted that people were injured.

The statement read that the organisation "has pictures of masked people walking around in the demonstration, communicating via walkie-talkies and earphones, who were also armed and who, according to hundreds of witnesses, are identified as the troublemakers who caused the disturbances."

Demonstrators later told the organisation these people were reportedly "police officers in civilian clothes" who they had seen "arriving on scooters in black clothes pretending to be demonstrators and throwing stones," but also talking to uniformed colleagues of the Brussels police force.

Although images showing this have yet to be verified, claims of agent provocateurs have been widely shared on social media, where reports of "hired rioters" displaying criminal behaviour have been made.

Pictures on social media that allegedly show the masked police agents were dismissed by Michael Verstraeten, Chair of the activist group Vrijheid (previously Viruswaanzin) – one of the organisations behind the demonstration – who stressed that the violence was caused by "football hooligans and gangs."

The tweet reads: "The violence came from football hooligans and gangs. I talked to them and tried to convince them. Lost effort. Almost all of them were wearing face masks. These were not demonstrators."

Police response

Brussels-Ixelles police spokesperson Ilse Van de keere noted that the police was aware of the complaint and of the organisation's claims that they had video footage showing "that the rioters are the police themselves."

"Officially, we do not wish to respond until we have a full picture of the full extent and content of the complaint. The Committee P has received complaints and they will now investigate," she told The Brussels Times.

The police declined to comment on the claims that plain-clothes police officers were seen taking part in the violence. They are currently analysing the damage caused by Sunday's incident and have put out a call to people who attended the protest or witnessed the riots to share their images.

The tweet reads: "All images of the destruction committed on the margins of the demonstration in Brussels on 21 November may be sent to the following address to the judicial task force of the zone set up to identify the perpetrators."

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