An increase in pandemic restrictions in Germany sparked a protest at a market, where a man dressed as Santa Claus was briefly detained. Online posts falsely claimed he was arrested for not wearing a mask. But police said he was detained for participating in an unregistered protest.
A new wave of COVID-19 infections spreading across Europe has become cause for concern for the World Health Organization. Germany and other nations have increased pandemic restrictions to help slow the spread of the disease, which led to protests across the continent in recent weeks.
An incident at a protest on Dec. 13 in Stralsund, Germany was featured in an article by DJHJ Media, an outlet that has been known to spread misinformation. The headline falsely claimed, “Santa Claus Arrested By German Police For Not Wearing a Mask At the Famous German Christmas Markets.”
The article also claimed, “Santa Claus, who was dressed in his traditional red and white robes donning his Christmas hat, and had his face covered with a large fake beard. However, the German ‘Polizei’ officers declared it was unsafe because Father Christmas wasn’t wearing a mask. ‘Santa Claus’ was then arrested and dragged through the market.”
That’s not what happened, however.
A video of the incident was shared on Twitter along with the tweet, “Lol the German police are arresting Santa for not wearing a mask this is the insanity that we have reached.” The video has received more than 938,000 views on Twitter.
Mask-wearing is currently required both indoors and outdoors — wherever social distancing cannot be maintained — in Stralsund due to high infection rates in the area. But the individual in the Santa suit wasn’t arrested for not wearing a mask. He was briefly detained, not arrested, for potentially violating a law against unlawful demonstrations, the police said.
The Stralsund police issued a Dec. 14 statement saying that the man in the costume was one of 65 protesters expressing “their opinions against the current Corona measures and a vaccination requirement” in Stralsund’s Old Market at an unregistered protest. That is a criminal offense under the nation’s Assembly Act, also known as the Assemblies and Elevators Act.
The police statement revealed that the individual “refused to give his name” and was accompanied to a patrol car to determine his identity.
“After the man’s identity was known, he was released from police measures at around 7:15 p.m. and is now at large again,” the statement said. “It subsequently emerged that the 47-year-old was suspected of having committed crimes against the Assembly Act in connection with demonstrations critical of the coronavirus.”
The act, which was enacted in 1953 and has gone through several amendments, states that anyone who would like to hold a public meeting in “open air or an elevator” must register with the proper authority at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.
Holding a public gathering in the open air or an elevator without registration is punishable by “imprisonment for up to one year or a fine.” Police can shut down a meeting that has not been registered or “if the information in the registration is deviated from or the conditions are violated.”
The police statement noted that two similar protests occurred earlier the same day and that criminal proceedings were initiated at those locations.
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This article was written by Brea Jones during her time as an NABJ/Facebook Fact-Checking Fellow at the University of Pennslyvania’s publication Factcheck.org.