Wisconsin police began threatening to arrest visitors observing "Solidarity Singalong" protests at the state capitol this week, in the latest controversy over demonstrations that have led to more than 100 citations in the last several weeks.
The Associated Press reported that capitol police told observers, including state Rep. Sondy Pope (D), that they would be arrested if they continued to watch the protests on the rotunda floor.
However, recently enacted protest permit requirements don't specify if police can arrest observers who are not actively participating in the protest.
"I have a duty to observe what is happening to my constituents who are expressing their discontent," Pope told Isthmus, Madison's alternative weekly newspaper. "How can I be arrested for that?"
Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said the observers would not face citations, despite the warnings from police.
Arrests at the capitol increased greatly last month, when a federal judge ruled that protesters, some of whom have been regularly gathering in the building to sing folk songs with union-friendly lyrics for the past two years, would be required to have a permit to congregate. The rule says that groups of more then 20 protesters are subject to the new requirements.
The AP interviewed Mike Anstett, a tourist from southwestern Wisconsin, who was threatened but ultimately not arrested.
"I'm really torn but I'm going to push it to the limit," Anstett said.