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German court upholds wiretaps of climate activists to press

November 29, 2023

A court in Bavaria has ruled that police were right in wiretapping phone calls between members of the Last Generation climate activist group and journalists.

Activists are moved by police officers as they block a road in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
The Last Generation group is best known across Germany for its road blocking protests, like this one in BerlinImage: Christian Mang/REUTERS

The Munich District Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of police over their wiretapping of phone calls between the Last Generation climate activist group and its press contacts.

The German court, which issued an order allowing the surveillance, ruled that the violation of the freedom of the press could be justified because of the threat posed by the group's actions.

What the court ruling said

The court rejected six complaints filed by journalists over the surveillance of their communications with the activist group, which is well-known in Germany for blockading road traffic.

The court found that a surveillance order had been correctly issued by a judge and that the surveillance had been carried out according to the law.

This, the court said, justified an "intensive, albeit brief, intervention" by police.

When it came to communications with journalists, these were not classified by the court as the focus of the criminal proceedings.

"The interest in criminal prosecution would result in the fundamental right of press freedom of the press representatives affected as third parties being revoked in this case," said the ruling.

Why is the group under surveillance?

Bavaria's prosecutors launched criminal investigations against Last Generation members in May, including police raids at homes and other properties. This received a mixed response in public, with some calling it an overreaction and others welcoming the move.

The probe was launched on the preliminary suspicion the members were involved in forming or supporting a criminal organization.

It follows Last Generation's campaign of public climate-related protests, often involving either blocking traffic on roads or throwing liquids or paint on works of art, and more recently on buildings, private planes, and private boats.

Munich-based daily newspaper the Süddeutsche Zeitung first broke the wiretapping story earlier in June, saying the process had begun in October last year. This was later confirmed by the Munich prosecutor's office.

In June, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said 580 potential criminal offenses had been attributed to the group or its members since the start of 2022, many related either to coercion (usually in the form of delaying people on the roads by blocking their path) or to vandalism or damage to property.

Edited by: Farah Bahgat

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Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.