BERLIN - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Europe on Saturday, February 11, to protest against an international anti-piracy agreement seen as Big Brothers-style surveillance.
"We don't feel safe anymore, Monica Tepelus, a 26-year-old programmer told Reuters as she protested with about 300 people in Bucharest.
The Internet was one of the few places where we could act freely."
Thousands of people protested in several European cities against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
In Germany, more than 25,000 demonstrators braved freezing temperatures in German cities to march against ACTA.
"Stop ACTA!" read a banner carried by one of the 2,000 marchers in central Berlin, where temperatures were -10 Celsius.
"It's not acceptable to sacrifice the rights of freedom for copyrights," Thomas Pfeiffer, a leader of the Greens party in Munich where 16,000 people protested against ACTA, was quoted telling Focus magazine's online edition on Saturday.
In Paris, about 1,000 people marched against the anti-piracy agreement, Reuters reported.
"It's a demonstration without precedent because it's taking place in all of Europe at the same time," said Jeremie Zimmermann, spokesman for Internet freedom group Quadrature du Net.
Eight countries, including the United States and Japan, signed ACTA in October to cut copyright and trademark theft.
But the accord has sparked concerns, especially in Eastern Europe and in Germany, which is sensitive about its history with the Gestapo and Stasi secret police, over online censorship and increased surveillance.
Protestors are worried that free downloading might lead to prison sentences if the ACTA was ratified by parliaments.
They also fear that exchanging material on the Internet may become a crime and say the accord will allow for massive online surveillance.
The agreement has not yet been signed or ratified by many European countries.
Germany's Foreign Ministry said on Friday it would hold off on signing.
Opposition to ACTA is strong in Eastern Europe, where it is compared to the Big Brother-style surveillance used by former Communist regimes.
"We want ACTA stopped," Yanko Petrov, who attended the rally in Sofia, told state broadcaster BNT.
"We have our own laws, we don't need international acts."
Nearly 4,000 Bulgarians marched in the capital Sofia to protest against the agreement, which is designed to strengthen the legal framework for intellectual property rights.
In Bucharest, 2,000 people protested in the Transylvanian city of Cluj against ACTA, carrying banners that said: "Paws off the Internet."
In Warsaw, some 500 protesters demonstrated, brandishing placards saying "No to ACTA," "Down with censorship" and "Free Internet."
Several hundred turned out in the southwestern city of Wroclaw, the Baltic port of Szczecin and Poznan.
In Prague, about 1,500 people marched against ACTA. Some waved black pirate flags with white skull and crossed bones, and others wore white masks of the Guy Fawkes character.
Some carried banners against the ACTA treaty such as "Freedom to the Internet" and "ACTA attacks Freedom," and chanted "Freedom, Freedom." Smaller gatherings took place in other Czech cities.
The Czech government has held off on ratification of the ACTA treaty, saying it needs to be analyzed.
In Croatia, protests were held in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka, with demonstrators, some masked, carrying banners reading "Stop internet censorship."
In Bratislava, hundreds of young Slovaks rallied, many also wearing Guy Fawkes masks. About 1,000 people demonstrated in Budapest.
Local media reported about 600 people protested at the government building in Vilnius.
Lithuania Justice Minister Remigijus Simasius said in his blog some of ACTA's provisions could pose a threat to Internet freedom."I don't know where it (ACTA) comes from and how it originated, but I don't like that this treaty was signed skillfully avoiding discussions in the European Union and Lithuania," Simasius wrote.