German Court Suspends Right to Surveil Far-Right AfD Party

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BERLIN — A German court on Friday suspended the right of the country’s domestic intelligence agency to conduct surveillance on the leading opposition party in Parliament, the far-right Alternative for Germany.

The ruling by the Administrative Court of Cologne came two days after news leaked to the media that the intelligence service had decided to investigate the party, known by its German initials AfD, on suspicion of being a threat to democracy.

The court said that the leak violated a confidentiality agreement and jeopardized the party’s guarantee to equal opportunity. It revoked the intelligence agency’s right to take further action against the party, pending the result of a continuing legal dispute over the measure.

Last month, the court ruled that intelligence office, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, known by its German initials BfV, was allowed to start investigating the AfD for extremism. But the party filed a lawsuit, the result of which will now determine whether the agency can proceed with surveillance to monitor party members’ movements by tapping phones and other communications.

The court said in a statement that it was prohibiting “the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution from classifying or treating the party as a ‘suspicious case’ and from any further announcements of such a classification or treatment as a ‘suspicious case’ until a decision is made on the emergency suit filed by the AfD.”

The party welcomed the ruling, which comes as Germany heads into a general election in September.

“This decision is not only a great victory for us, but also for the rule of law, because the Administrative Court has shown that the illegal action of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution against the largest opposition party can be stopped by legal means,” the party’s leader, Jörg Meuthen, said.

Increasingly concerned about the party’s positions, the intelligence agency spent two years scrutinizing the speeches and social media posts of AfD officials for evidence of extremism. An assessment concluded that the party’s position violated principles of liberal democracy, not least Article 1 of the German Constitution, which states that human dignity is unassailable, officials said.

A year ago, the intelligence agency classified both the most radical wing of the AfD associated with Björn Höcke, the party’s most notorious far-right firebrand, and its youth organization as extremist and said it would place some of its most influential leaders under surveillance.

The AfD holds seats in all 16 statehouses in Germany, in addition to being the largest opposition party in the federal government. In recent months, support for the party has dropped below 10 percent, compared with the 12.6 percent representation it earned in the 2017 election.

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