Luxembourg lawyer investigated over controversial letter
(CS) Luxembourg lawyer Gaston Vogel has become subject of an investigation by the state prosecutor for an open letter he sent to City mayor Lydie Polfer in which he complained about beggars on the streets of the capital.
In his letter, Vogel called the beggars “disgusting” and “insolent”, saying they were able to flock to Luxembourg without any control from Romania due to the “intelligent Schengen accords.”
Vogel, something of a controversial local celebrity, went on to say that the beggars annoy passersby, saying that no one was dealing with “this riffraff.” He also said that their unhygienic behaviour was turning Luxembourg City into a “vomitorium” of beggars.
Published earlier this month, Vogel said that tourists were leaving Luxembourg with “feelings of anger and disgust” over the sight of the beggars. Vogel furthermore appealed to Polfer to “make an effort” to restore safety, tranquility and wholesomeness in the capital.
Limits to freedom of speech
The document provoked mixed reactions on social media, with some commentators showing support for Vogel's opinions while many objected to the lawyer's tone.
The state prosecutor on Friday said it was intending to pursue the matter to analyse whether limits to freedom of speech had been breached and whether the penal code applies.
While saying that freedom of speech is a fundamental value in a democracy, protected by national and international law, the prosecutor's office added that there are restrictions to respect the rights and reputation of others.
“It goes without saying that the prosecutor will conduct this analysis independently,” a statement read.
Polfer meanwhile swiftly replied to Vogel, saying she was aware of the problem of organised begging in the City, adding, however, that this had to be dealt with by police. Talks to grant municipal agents the power, for example, to ban beggars from certain places have yet to come to a conclusion.
The Luxembourg City mayor also urged for a differentiated approach to organised begging and people in need, for whom social services are helping to provide.
“Additionally, it seems to me that although the fact presented in the open letter present real problems, an approach more nuanced and respectful of the dignity of vulnerable people is essential,” Polfer wrote.
Shopkeepers want action
Begging itself is not illegal in Luxembourg. Only organised groups of beggars can be jailed for eight days up to one month. However, finding the people behind the groups is a challenge, police commented to the “Luxemburger Wort”.
Police have repeatedly encouraged the public not to give money to beggars, arguing that people in need can turn to shelters for help. Police also warn of tricks and scams used to distract victims.
The number of beggars in the capital has remained stable over the past couple of years, police said. However, commercial union UCVL commented that complaints by shop owners about the presence of beggars outside their stores have increased over the past 24 months.
“Many passersby and customers are scared,” commented UCVL president Guill Kaempff, who called on police to show more presence on the capitals streets to discourage beggars from lingering.