Irish Bloc Berlin, which describes itself as a "Berlin-based platform for Irish solidarity with Palestine," says it was told by German police to stop using the Irish language during a pro-Palestinian event on Friday, April 19.

In a statement issued in both Irish and English, Irish Bloc Berlin said it had organized an evening of Irish song and conversation along with Besetzung Gegen Besatzung (Occupy against Occupation).

The event, Irish Bloc Berlin claims, "was unjustly and unconstitutionally prohibited."

The group said they faced "disruption and interference by the Berlin police began even before most of the group had arrived."

The reason the group was given was "the lack of a registered Irish language interpreter, despite Irish being an official EU language."

Irish Bloc Berlin says the action "interferes with our fundamental rights as European citizens to assemble and speak our native language" and that is "a clear contravention of German and EU law."

The Irish language achieved full status as an official language of the European Union in January 2022.

Irish Bloc Berlin said in its statement: "As the event commenced, we were immediately confronted by police who demanded the removal of any Irish-language banners or flags, citing their potential political significance.

"Our speaking and singing in Irish was also banned, on the grounds that the camp had only two permitted languages: German and English."

The group noted that in recent weeks, Arabic speaking had been "significantly repressed in Berlin" - certain Arabic words and slogans were banned, and protesters were being intimidated, recorded, and even arrested for speaking Arabic without an interpreter present.

"This context underscored our decision to host the ciorcal comhrá, aiming to highlight the contrast in police responses to us as a predominantly white Irish group versus the harsher treatment of Arabic speakers.

"Initially, authorities directed us not to sit or stand together within the camp area, labelling it as encouragement for an illegal demonstration. It's important to note that our gathering was intended as a ciorcal comhrá—a conversation circle, not a demonstration.

"Forced to split into smaller groups, our attempts to continue speaking and singing in Irish were met with increased surveillance and intimidation, with police filming us and restricting our movement within the (public) space.

"The police insisted that our proximity to the camp implied our involvement in its activities, justifying the prohibition of the Irish language as per their language rules.

"Despite moving several hundred metres away so as to no longer be considered within the proximity of the camp, sitting spread out on blankets in small groups in a public park, the police continued to harass us. They informed us that since we were now outside the camp, our gathering was illegal, and they presented us with an ultimatum: either return to the camp without displaying any symbols, banners, or flags and cease speaking or singing in Irish, or vacate the vicinity entirely, stipulating that we would also be forbidden from assembling outside of the camp.

"Such preemptive restrictions on peaceful assembly contravene both German and European law.

"By dividing us into smaller groups, the police effectively hindered our communication with one another.

"Each group encountered varying levels of police interference, and some members struggled to understand instructions given only in German. Our translators faced significant challenges in keeping everyone informed, exacerbated by further enforced fragmentation by the police.

"This confusion peaked when the police claimed that a 'Verwaltungsakt' (administrative act) had been issued to prohibit our assembly, a claim they failed to substantiate. They informed us that we were welcome to file a complaint regarding their inability to produce the act.

"Feeling increasingly threatened by the aggressive police presence, and concerned that we might unwittingly cause harm to our Palestinian friends at the camp, we decided to relocate to the Haus der Kulturen der Welt museum nearby. Although this was a private space where the police had no authority to disperse us, a large number of them followed and surveilled us through the building at length, proceeding to maintain a visible presence over a period of several hours outside the café where we congregated. They continued to follow us as we left the café some three hours later, on foot as well as in a convoy of vans, as we made our way to public transport.

"We as Irish people are all too familiar with having our language oppressed. This understanding motivated us to express solidarity at the Bundestag protest camp, a place where languages are unjustly repressed and prohibited by an omnipresent and aggressive police force, which has repeatedly intruded into the camp since its beginning, detaining and violently assaulting peaceful protesters.

"Despite the police’s clear intimidation tactics, we will persist. We are painfully aware that were we not predominantly a white-Irish group, this situation would most likely have unfolded very differently. Volunteers on camp noted that they’ve never observed the Berlin police so hesitant to arrest or attack people in this context.

"We intend to continue using our position to protect and support those who critically need it. This incident highlights the harsh realities of discrimination in 2024 Germany, and the very ominous misuse of power in what is supposed to be democracy.

"Language is a human right."

In a statement to the Irish Independent, Berlin Police said there are restrictions on public speech in German, meaning that "speeches can only be made in German and English and at certain times also in Arabic, and that no exclamations or chants may be made in Hebrew or Gaelic."

"This was also the case on Friday. This requirement is always communicated to the people leading the assembly by the police," a police spokesperson said. 

"The assembly leaders must ensure that these requirements are implemented and that all participants adhere to them. Otherwise, it is a violation of the Berlin Freedom of Assembly Act and an administrative offense." 

The spokesperson added that officers must be able to understand speeches and chants in order to be able to punish or investigate those inciting and glorifying violence. 

Irish language organization Conradh na Gaeilge condemned the incident, describing the behavior of German police as "disgraceful."

"We can see no reason why anyone should be compelled to use only German or English while attending a Palestine solidarity protest in Germany," Conradh na Gaeilge said on X on Monday.

"We have been informed that a number of people attending the protest were told that they must not use Irish, an official language of the EU. This is disgraceful behavior by the German police who, we believe, should uphold EU citizens' language rights instead of denying them.

"Conradh na Gaeilge believes that there should be an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Palestine and don’t see any reason people should not advocate for this as Gaeilge."

🚨 RÁITEAS/STATEMENT:@Independent_ie: Berlin police ban speaking or singing in Irish at pro-Palestine ‘ciorcal comhrá’ near Reichstag.

We can see no reason why anyone should be compelled to use only German or English while attending a Palestine solidarity protest in Germany.

— Conradh na Gaeilge ⭕️ (@CnaG) April 22, 2024