Every time the police use some force against rioters or football hooligans, they are accused of using ‘excessive force’. Most of the time this accusation is unjustified, but on Saturday there is no doubt that ‘excessive force’ was used against peaceful demonstrators.
Anyone who saw the film and pictures of what happened on the streets of Nicosia on Saturday afternoon knows that the police had resorted to the kind of violence that has not been witnessed before, not even when dealing with football hooligans wreaking havoc on the streets.
The intentions of the police were evident from the big number of officers, in full riot gear, on the streets. The water cannon truck had also been brought out to intimidate the protestors who were violating the decrees prohibiting demonstrations of any type. The leftist youths that showed up may have been violating the decrees and ignoring police orders to leave the area, but a little civil disobedience must be tolerated by the authorities even during these repressive and paranoid times of rule by decree.
In a way the extreme heavy-handedness of the police was in keeping with the authoritarianism we have been experiencing for months now. We live in a country in which we need permission from the state to leave home and the police can stop us on the street to check that we have authorisation to be outdoors. Given the powers the police have been given by the government, the logical progression was to beat up citizens who openly refused to obey the decrees the police have to enforce. They behaved exactly as the police force of an authoritarian regime would.
The universal condemnation of the police violence was a positive reaction, an indication that people will not tolerate enforcement of the decrees by violence. Even the justice minister, Emily Yiolitis, branded the police reaction as disproportionate and claimed the scenes she saw gave her sleepless nights. This did not stop opposition parties from calling for her resignation as she is the minister in charge of the force and someone had to take responsibility for the police’s unacceptable tactics.
The public outcry prompted the attorney-general to order an investigation into the police actions which was a positive development. The police command had initially announced that its own body for investigating police actions would look into the incidents, but the attorney-general decided that it could not be trusted to do such a job impartially. Some heads may eventually roll, but more important than this is the reaction to the repression we are being subjected to for the sake of protecting public health.
People will not accept the police beating up citizens in the name of protecting public health.