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In the third installment of The North Star’s biweekly series, “World Briefing,” we’ll delve into the neo-Nazi problem infecting Germany’s police and military, a COVID-19 outbreak in Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh prison and ongoing anti-lockdown protests affecting the Australian state of Victoria. “World Briefing” highlights unrest, injustices and political going-ons around the world. This series aims to cover key events occurring in different corners of the world.
Germany: In Germany’s western region of North Rhine-Westphalia, 29 police officers were suspended after participating in extremist chat groups in which photos of Hitler, swastikas and an image of a refugee in a gas chamber were shared. The state’s interior minister, Herbert Reul, called the revelation a “disgrace” for police in the area, The Washington Post reported.
“We are talking about the nastiest and most disgusting neo-Nazi, racist and refugee-hostile hatred,” Reul said at a news conference.
According to The Washington Post, 126 images were shared in five WhatsApp chat groups that were predominately used by police officers. The 29 officers, including 25 in the city of Essen alone, were told to hand in their badges and weapons on Sept. 16.
Officials said that disciplinary proceedings to terminate were initiated against 14 of the officers. Eleven of those officers are suspected of committing a criminal offense. The content in the images shared in the WhatsApp groups is punishable by law in Germany.
Germany has strict laws that ban Nazi imagery and hate speech—or Volksverhetzung, according to Vox. The European nation also criminalizes Holocaust denial.
This latest incident is one in a series of neo-Nazi and right extremist scandals to hit Germany’s police and military. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Harrenbauer disbanded a combat unit of the country’s elite Special Forces Command in June following reports of extreme-right ties among its ranks.
Lebanon: The Middle Eastern country’s largest prison has been struck by a coronavirus outbreak. The BBC reported that some 200 prisoners contracted COVID-19 in Roumieh prison near Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut. Reports of the high case outbreak come days after authorities said there were just 22 cases, involving 13 imprisoned people and nine guards, at the prison.
On Sept. 14, the head of the Beirut Bar Association warned that the coronavirus outbreak at Roumieh prison was a “humanitarian time bomb,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. The jail, which houses more than 3,000 people, is known for poor living conditions and overcrowding.
“The virus inside the Roumieh prison is tantamount to a humanitarian time bomb,” attorney Melhem Khalaf told AFP. Khalaf called on the government to take “urgent measures” to stop the spread of the virus, including separating sick imprisoned individuals from those who do not present COVID-19 symptoms.
The Beirut Bar Association leader also called for a reduction in the prison’s population. He suggested releasing those who are not convicted of “egregious crimes and terrorism.” Those who are sick should also be released, Khalaf said.
The family members of those detained at Roumieh protested in front of a Beirut courthouse demanding general amnesty of their relatives over fears regarding the spread of COVID-19. Lebanon has documented more than 26,000 cases and 259 deaths of COVID-19 during the ongoing global pandemic.
Australia: Police in the city of Melbourne are gearing up for more anti-lockdown protests this weekend, The Guardian reported. Victoria state Assistant Police Commissioner Luke Cornelius told radio station 3AW that protest organizers told police of their intentions.
“The organisers of the protest sent an email to us a couple of days ago, wanting to protest,” Cornelius said. “[They were] advising us that if we refused to allow them, we’ll be jeopardizing the safety of others and Victoria police would be putting all Victorians at risk and responsible for the continued spread of the virus.”
Nearly 200 people were fined and another 74 were arrested in Melbourne on Sept. 15 during anti-lockdown rallies. The biggest protest occurred at the Queen Victoria Market, where an estimated 200 to 250 people assembled.
Victoria Police said 176 fines were issued for violations of the rules set by the Chief Health Officer, news.com.au reported. A 44-year-old man believed to be the lead organizer of the protests remained in police custody and was expected to be charged with incitement.
Police said that protesters who participated in the rowdy demonstration should expect fines if they are identified.
“Anyone thinking of attending a protest can expect the same swift and firm response from police as has consistently occurred in relation to such behaviour,” authorities said in a statement. “We again urge people not to leave home to protest.”
Anti-lockdown protests, including those that oppose other pandemic safety measures, have occurred in a number of other countries, including the U.S.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.