OFFICERS at Helsinki Police Department brought 20 people into custody for failure to comply with police orders to disperse during a demonstration organised against the restrictions introduced to combat the coronavirus epidemic in Helsinki on Saturday.
An additional 10 motorists were fined for operating their vehicles in a disturbing manner as part of the demonstration.
Law enforcement authorities had received no advance notification of the demonstration, according to a press release from Helsinki Police Department. The demonstrators gathered at around midday at Narinkkatori Square in Kamppi, Helsinki, before departing for the Market Square. Police estimated that the number of demonstrators peaked at 300, with about 100 arriving at the Market Square.
Public gatherings of more than six people have been prohibited as part of the effort to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Police officers, as a result, ordered the demonstrators to disperse already at Narinkkatori Square. The first participants were taken into custody after the demonstration had departed for the Market Square.
The demonstration ended at around 2pm.
Helsinki Police Department said the crowd was largely the same that expressed their public disapproval with the restrictions in Helsinki on 20 March. Dozens of people are suspected of violating the gathering restrictions due to the earlier demonstration.
Heikki Kopperoinen, a deputy police chief at Helsinki Police Department, on Sunday estimated to Helsingin Sanomat that the decision to try to disperse the crowd in advance was correct.
“I think this went quite alright,” he said.
“Voicing your opinion is your right, and we’ll do our very best to protect it. We do, however, have to think how public order and safety are preserved and how the instructions and prohibitions are followed. This is why we decided to switch the approach.”
Police on Saturday had only prepared to safeguard a demonstration of two people outside the Parliament Annex.
“The principle here is that you have to submit the notification at least 24 hours before the event starts. It can’t be that you show up and give us the notification five minutes before starting. That’d make it impossible for police to react,” he said.
Kopperoinen added that organisers should not draw any conclusions about the approach for upcoming demonstrations.
“We’ll approach based on the current situation day at a time. We can’t devise a template in advance. If we get an advance notification, then we’ll safeguard the demonstration,” he commented, adding that police hope the public exhibit patience and common sense.
“The spring is coming and the situation will surely become better gradually,” he said to the newspaper.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT