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PEGIDA: 'We won't be muzzled'

January 19, 2015

The PEGIDA group intends to hold protests next Monday again, after a terror threat forced the group to call of this week's march. The German government also said that the sudden suspension must remain "a one-off."

Lutz Bachmann und Kathrin Oertel PK 19.01.2015
Image: AFP/Getty Images/R. Michael

PEGIDA founder Lutz Bachmann and fellow senior figure in the movement, Kathrin Oertel, told reporters in Dresden on Monday that the group was planning another march in one week's time.

This followed Sunday's sudden police ban on all public demonstrations in the city, following "concrete" terror threats against a member of PEGIDA's 12-person organizers' committee. PEGIDA has since said that founder Bachmann was the individual in question.

"We don't want to let anybody take away our rights to freedom of opinion and assembly," Oertel said on Monday. Bachmann concurred, saying: "We won't be muzzled."

Pegida Demonstration in Dresden Archiv 12.01.2015
The January 12 PEGIDA march drew a crowd of 25,000, and international attentionImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

Oertel also appeared on the popular German weekly talk show "Günther Jauch" on public channel ARD on Sunday night, with around 5.6 million viewers - almost 20 percent of the total TV audience at the time - tuning in. Oertel said during the show that the group had set up "appointments for negotiations with political representatives," without going into specifics. So far, only the Saxony arm of the euroskeptic AfD ("Alternative for Germany") party has held talks with PEGIDA with a view to a possible alliance.

Freedom of assembly 'valuable,' 'worth defending'

"For the German government, the right to stage demonstrations - the fundamental right to freedom of assembly - is a particularly valuable part of our democracy that's worth defending," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin on Monday. A ban on holding demonstrations, like the one issued by police in Dresden, was something the government wanted to see "only as rarely as possible." Even left-leaning German politicians, often the most critical of PEGIDA, agreed that the cancelation in Dresden was unfortunate.

"These PEGIDA demonstrations are disgusting. But of course our authorities have to ensure that such disgusting expressions of opinion are also possible," said Green party co-leader Anton Hofreiter on ZDF television.

PEGIDA, whose acronym translates as "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West," was founded several months ago in the eastern German city. Weekly marches gradually gathered domestic attention, also growing in size - before peaking last Monday after the Paris terror attacks, when an estimated 25,000 people took part in PEGIDA's Dresden demonstration. The marches in Dresden and other cities have also prompted counterdemonstrations, often with these protesters outnumbering PEGIDA participants.

The group demonstrates on Mondays as a nod to the weekly Monday protests in former Communist East Germany that helped bring about reunification. Despite a relatively modest tally of 150,000 "likes" on its Facebook page - by comparison, Deutsche Welle's English-language page has 415,000 and Bayern Munich football club has 26.4 million, although Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union's party page can boast only 90,000 - the movement has garnered international attention, perhaps in part because of Germany's 20th century history.

Infografik Pegida-Demos und Gegendemos am 12.1.2015 Englisch
A summary of PEGIDA and anti-PEGIDA protests around Germany on the Monday after the Charlie Hebdo attacks

msh/bw (dpa, epd, Reuters)