Climate activists’ homes raided, communications monitored; Pro-Palestinian protests repressed
Freedom of association
Police raids on homes of climate activists
On 24th May, German police conducted raids on the homes of activists belonging to the environmental group Last Generation. According to the authorities, they were investigating allegations that seven people connected to the movement, aged 22 to 38, had formed and supported a criminal organisation. Two of the suspects are accused of directly plotting criminal acts, which included an attempt to sabotage an oil pipeline connecting Trieste, Italy, to Ingolstadt, Germany, last April.
According to a police statement, the Bavarian Central Office for Combating Extremism and Terrorism initiated criminal proceedings against the group in response to numerous complaints received from the general public since mid-2022. The press release goes on to state that the authorities raided 15 properties across seven states in Germany, seizing assets and bank accounts belonging to the activists. The Bavarian State Criminal Police Office also took down the activists' website. According to the investigators, the defendants are accused of raising €1.4 million through a fundraising campaign and using it to fund criminal activity. The investigations follow a campaign of public climate protests by Last Generation, which often involved glueing themselves to roads and airport runways.
As the CIVICUS Monitor has previously reported, German police raided the homes of 11 Last Generation activists in a similar operation back in December 2022, in connection with their protests against the closure of the PCK Schwedt oil refinery, which cut off the oil supply to the plant. The activists’ phones and computers were confiscated during the raid.
Authorities confirm surveillance of Last Generation climate activist group
On 25th June, the Munich public prosecutor’s office confirmed that its investigators had been monitoring the communications of the climate activist group Last Generation, including phones, emails and voicemails linked to the group or some of its members. The group is currently being investigated by Bavarian authorities on initial suspicion of forming or supporting a criminal organisation.
The prosecutor's office claimed that journalists were not targeted in the surveillance campaign, but that they were affected by the measures due to phone calls made to monitored phone numbers, as the surveillance included the activist group’s press hotline. The group's cell phones, email accounts, and GPS location data on mobile phones were also monitored.
Bavarian prosecutors launched criminal investigations into the group in May 2023, including police raids on some members’ homes. On 11th June, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said that 580 possible offences have been attributed to the group or its members since the beginning of 2022, many of them related to coercion, vandalism or damage to property. Faeser defended police action against the group, arguing that some of Last Generation's protest actions had been disproportionate and that its tactics “risked alienating people” from the ecologist cause.
As DW reports, Last Generation has been prompted by the criminal investigation to change its protest tactics from previous public actions and has recently taken to spraying paint on commercial buildings, private planes and boats. The group has stated that this is an attempt to disrupt the more productive carbon emitters in society, rather than the lives of ordinary people.
Freedom of peaceful assembly
Crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests
Since the beginning of October, as in many other countries around the world, protests and demonstrations in support of the Palestinians occurred in Germany in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis resulting from Israel’s actions in Gaza. However, there were reports of a crackdown and restrictions on these protests by German authorities.
In the weeks following Hamas’ attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli offensive on Gaza, police and courts in Germany have reacted differently to pro-Palestinian protests: Bans were imposed in Berlin and Frankfurt, while demonstrations took place without incident in Cologne and Düsseldorf.
The protests in Neukölln, a Berlin district with a high proportion of Arab and Palestinian population, were particularly severely repressed as police used pepper spray, water cannons and excessive force against the demonstrators. At a protest in Neukölln on 18th October, police reported at least 174 people had been arrested. Some worrying instances of police overreach and misconduct have been reported at these protests, including the arrest of a minor for wearing the colours of the Palestinian flag, the arrest of a woman holding a sign reading “As a Jewish Israeli: stop the genocide in Gaza”, and a police officer smashing candles at a vigil for Palestinian civilian victims of the Gaza bombardment. These actions have sparked criticism and raised questions about freedom of speech and the right to protest.
Freedom of expression
Interior Minister calls for deportation of Hamas supporters
On 20th October, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser expressed her support for the deportation of people expressing support for the Palestinian extremist group Hamas, announcing that the country's security services have placed “an even stronger focus on the Islamist scene.” Faeser said that authorities would closely monitor possible threats following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7th. Faeser appealed to citizens to inform the authorities about any "propaganda" in support of Hamas. This follows similar measures announced by authorities in the UK and France.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian community in the country has expressed concern that their voices are being silenced. The crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests in Germany has been viewed by some as a form of censorship. Critics argue that these actions limit the ability of individuals to express their support for the Palestinian cause and their concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Palestinian symbols banned in Berlin schools
On 13th October, the media reported that Berlin state authorities had banned the wearing of Palestinian keffiyeh scarves in schools because they endanger school peace. In a letter to schools, Education Senator Katharina Guenther-Wuensch stated that “any demonstrative behaviour or expression of opinion that could be understood as advocating or approving the attacks against Israel or supporting terrorist organisations such as Hamas or Hezbollah” is prohibited. She added that the ban extends to forms of expression that fall outside the scope of criminal liability, such as keffiyehs, stickers reading “Free Palestine” and maps of Israel in the colours of Palestine. Critics argue that the authorities' action violates fundamental rights, freedom of assembly and the right to demonstrate.