On Saturday December 12, nine ISKCON devotees were arrested while chanting Hare Krishna outside the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
80,000 people from around the world had taken to the streets at 3pm on Saturday afternoon in a mostly peaceful rally demanding the gathered political leaders to take stronger action against climate change.
Demonstrators walked through the city, carrying banners that read “Demand Climate Justice,” “The World Wants a Real Deal” and “There is No Planet B.”
While ISKCON devotees supported the message of environmentalism and care for Mother Earth, they were mostly there to spread Krishna’s name amongst the huge crowd.
When a few youth activists at the tail end of the demonstration threw cobblestones through the windows of the former stock exchange and Foreign Ministry buildings, police in riot gear moved in and arrested an unprecedented 968 innocent people, saying that it was in “preventative action.”
“We were made to sit on the ice cold road with our hands cuffed behind our backs for four hours, and were not allowed to go to the toilet,” says Keshava Priya Dasi, one of the peacefully chanting Hare Krishna devotees that were rounded up with the crowd.
The protestors were then transported in buses to a nearby detention center where they were held in cramped steel cages for several more hours. Devotees were released by 11:15pm; many others were held until the next morning, when all but thirteen were finally released.
Devotees called the treatment “outrageous” but saw the positive side, saying “It was a very good opportunity that Krishna arranged to spread His name.”
Others were not so generous. After a further 257 protestors were arrested on Sunday, Danish human rights groups claimed that the police may have breached European law and called for their government to launch an immediate inquiry.
Claus Bonnez, a lawyer working with Krim, a human rights and legal support organisation, said: “This has all been done under the fairly new law which entitles police to arrest people and keep them for up to twelve hours. But according to the European Court of Human Rights process, the police will have to prove that it is necessary for democratic society to make such arrests. And I don’t think that the Danish police will be able to prove that."
Ida Thuesen, of Amnesty International Denmark said: “We call for the government ombudsman to begin an immediate investigation into the arrests last night. When nearly 1,000 people are arrested and then all but thirteen are released it means that many of those people were just innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
One of Denmark’s biggest newspapers and its national TV channel also chipped in. Keshava Priya Dasi and Chaitanya Chandra Dasa were invited to speak on TV 2’s Good Morning Denmark, while Minister of Justice Brian Mikkelsen was challenged on the same program to “defend the police’s actions towards the Hare Krishna devotees and all the other innocents who had been arrested.”
The Minister of Justice apologized in the interview, mentioning that all the innocents who had been arrested could apply for compensation from the government.climate-change ]