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KTH students were met with police violence

Raquel Frescia - Authorosqledaren@ths.kth.se

Christofer Kebbon - Photographerosqledaren@ths.kth.se

On May 29, a group of KTH students advocating for an academic boycott of Israel participated in a protest outside KTH Innovation. This demonstration, which aimed to disrupt Ebba Busch's visit, quickly escalated and drew substantial attention from the KTH community. The protest, marked by a visible police presence, has since sparked a debate about safety, freedom of expression, and the response of university authorities.

The protest on May 29 was not an isolated incident but an addition to the months of tension between KTH for Palestine and the KTH President. These students have been advocating for an academic boycott of Israel, motivated by concerns about human rights and international justice.

Leading up to the protest, KTH had already heightened security measures in response to earlier incidents of vandalism and loud demonstrations on campus. The university’s security department decided to close the outer doors of several buildings, requiring students and staff to use access cards and codes during regular hours. According to a statement from KTH, this decision was intended to ensure a "safe and calm study and work environment."

Protesters interrupted Ebba Busch’s visit

On the day of the protest, students gathered outside KTH Innovation with the intent to voice their demands during a high-profile visit by Ebba Busch. Equipped with megaphones and speakers, they chanted slogans such as “KTH says no to genocide.” The demonstration saw a few protesters throwing water balloons and bumping against the building’s glass, prompting police intervention.

A mask ban was imposed

The police responded swiftly and asked to maintain a distance from the building, which the group complied with. The police then imposed a mask ban. A mask ban is typically imposed during public demonstrations, protests, or similar events with a risk of violence or disorder. The decision to impose the ban is usually based on an assessment by the police. If the police believe that participants might engage in violent or illegal activities, they can enforce the ban.

The police have the authority to instruct individuals to remove face coverings. However, some chose to keep their masks on. The students then moved on to the main entrance. Then they walked towards Triangelparken. There, protesters stood and continued chanting. Some minutes later, the police began detaining those with megaphones, seating them on the grass. Then, the police continued to detain the remaining protesters. Some students complained that the police didn’t tell them their rights or the reason for their apprehension until much later.

In a move that further complicated the situation, the police also detained an individual designated as the protest’s police contact. This person was an outsider who did not take part in the protest, did not wear a mask, and yet was detained on the grounds of “disobedience to law enforcement.” However, protesters and bystanders indicate that the police didn’t give orders. The role of the police contact is to facilitate dialogue between both parties and ensure the smooth handling of demonstrations. This arrest left the group vulnerable and made communication with the police more difficult, exacerbating the already tense atmosphere.

A PL24 zone might have been established

Some say the police established a PL24 zone. However, this hasn't been confirmed. A PL24 zone refers to a specific area designated under Section 24 of the Swedish Police Act. This section gives the police the authority to close an area to the public primarily to ensure public order and safety. The designation of a PL24 zone is temporary and typically lasts only as long as the situation requires.

When a PL24 zone is established, the public must be informed through, e.g., signs, barriers, or announcements. The police should also provide information about the zone's boundaries and any specific rules that apply within it. However, if the police did establish a PL24 zone, they failed to communicate it. Instead, they deployed four police dogs and numerous officers to disperse the crowd.

In one incident, a person filming the protest was attacked by a police dog after the police lost grip on the dog’s leash. The dog didn’t seem to obey the command to sit, and the police pushed their hands as they continued to use dogs to clear the area. Other individuals were pushed against a fence in an attempt to clear the area, further upsetting the public. Soon, four mounted police officers arrived.

The police denied them water

The police denied detained protesters access to water and shade, stating that “they won’t die from not drinking water now,” a behaviour that drew criticism and concern from bystanders and supporting organisations. The dialogue police eventually intervened, ensuring that water was provided. This perceived insensitivity was further highlighted by the fact that the police promptly gave water to the dogs, which became a persistent point of conversation among the crowd. Later, they detained someone who had recently fainted, drawing more criticism.

Bypassers joined the protest

As the police started to detain protesters, approximately 100 bystanders, primarily students and employees, steadily joined the protest and chanted in solidarity with the group. They offered support, brought refreshments and fluid replacements, and helped ensure everyone was safe. This continued for a few hours while the protesters were detained on the grass before being taken away.

One protester remarked, “We were there to make our voices heard, not to cause harm. The way the police handled and escalated the situation made it seem like we were a threat, which we are not.” A bystander added, “KTH says they care about safety on campus. They say they care about democracy and academic freedom. But they won’t protect the students protesting against the bombing of universities, against the violation of human rights.”

Later in the day, the protesters gathered at the encampment on Borggården to celebrate their efforts. Despite the arrests and confrontations, all twenty-two detained individuals were released and reported to be safe. The charges brought against them included “disobedience to law enforcement,” “disturbance of public order,” and “masking during a mask ban.” However, according to a lawyer consulted by Osqledaren, these charges are unlikely to hold up in court due to the lack of clear orders from the police and the non-violent nature of the protest.

KTH issued a response

In response to the events, KTH issued a statement emphasising the disruption caused to campus operations. Christina Boman, Head of the security and safety department at KTH, stated, “We see very seriously what happened today, which meant that KTH’s operations could not be conducted safely and securely.” The statement also highlighted KTH’s ongoing cooperation with the police and efforts to enhance campus security to prevent future incidents of disruption.

However, the protesters and their supporters have criticised KTH’s characterisation of the events, arguing that while the demonstration was disruptive, it was conducted peacefully. They argue that the statement seems more concerned with the perceived feelings of safety among the general student and employee body than the violence faced by the protesters at the hands of the police. They contend that KTH should show equal concern for the feelings of safety of all students and the physical safety of those met with force during the protest.

Edit: The article previously stated that the second demonstration was held near Maskinparken. This has been corrected; the demonstration was held in Triangelparken.

Publicerad: 2024-05-30

Ansvarig utgivare: Raquel Frescia
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