German Investigations dropped: Indymedia platform was not a criminal association

The German linksunten.indymedia, founded in 2008, was banned under the Associations Act, and the entire technical infrastructure and funds of a left-wing center were confiscated. Seized storage devices apparently could not be decrypted.

Almost five years after the ban of linksunten.indymedia, the German public prosecutor Manuel Graulich has closed a preliminary investigation for the formation of a criminal organization (§ 129 of the German Code of Criminal Procedure), writes Antifa Freiburg in a post on its website. Accordingly, the decision was already made on July 12. The Freiburg lawyer of those affected, Angela Furmaniak, confirmed the information.

On August 25, 2017, and thus shortly before the Bundestag elections, the then Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) had announced the ban and declared the Internet platform to be an „association“. This meant that the law on associations could be applied, which, compared to the Telemedia Act, has significantly fewer requirements for a ban. The lawyers of those affected call this a „legal trick“.

Openposting principle

Indymedia was founded in the last millennium as a worldwide and hierarchy-free network of independent media centers. The participants saw themselves as part of the resistance against capitalist globalization. The „Carnival Against Capital“ in London and Köln and the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999 are considered to be its first international appearances.

Shortly thereafter, media activists in Germany also launched an offshoot that mobilized first for the protests against the transport of nuclear waste in 2001 and then for the G8 summit in Genoa. After internal conflicts, the spin-off „Linksunten“ was founded on September 25, 2008, with an initial focus on the border triangle of Germany, Switzerland and France.

One of the fundamental principles of Indymedia is openposting, according to which contributions can be made there without prior registration. Therefore, Indymedia must be considered a news platform and treated according to the Telemedia Act, argued the lawyers of Linksunten against the ban.

Tens of thousands of euros seized from safe

To justify the classification as an „association,“ the Federal Ministry of the Interior alleged that linksunten.indymedia was pursuing purposes and activities that violated criminal law and was therefore anti-constitutional. Alleged evidence came from, among other things, reports by a spy for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which at the time was still headed by the right winger Hans-Georg Maaßen.

The use of the symbol of the sparking „i“ in connection with the association’s name was also banned and made punishable. De Maizière also ordered the shutdown of the domain and mail addresses, which, however, were located abroad. Together with the Federal Police, the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) from Baden-Wuerttemberg subsequently searched several homes of alleged members of the banned „association.“ As the „association’s headquarters,“ the Interior Ministry claimed the Autonomous Center KTS, where the regional Indymedia offshoot actually had an office and was also once founded.

All the rooms of the KTS were also raided and the entire technical infrastructure was confiscated. This included several tens of thousands of euros from a safe at the center. According to the indictment, these were the „association assets“ of linksunten.indymedia.

Raids with secret service

The seized documents were handed over to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is the domestic secret service in Germany. A „task force“ at the LKA was responsible for decrypting the computers, according to a person concerned. The Federal Police, among others, is said to have provided assistance in this regard. This was apparently not successful, Antifa Freiburg notes in its posting.

The investigation was discontinued under Section 170 (2) of the German Code of Criminal Procedure, according to which the public prosecutor’s office was unable to gather sufficient evidence to file an indictment with the competent court. In July 2019, the proceedings had already been suspended because five Freiburg victims had filed a lawsuit against the ban on the association before the Federal Administrative Court.

It was questionable who was allowed to challenge the ban at all. Although the five people concerned had received a corresponding court order, they had denied membership of the alleged association. In legal terms, this situation is known as a „legal protection trap“.

Constitutional complaint still pending

The Federal Administrative Court ultimately deemed the action admissible, as the plaintiffs could invoke the „general freedom of action“ enshrined in the German constitution. In January 2020, however, the court dismissed the complaint after an oral hearing.

The judges of the 6th Senate did not decide whether the ban on the association was lawful at all. The lawyers of the Five subsequently filed a constitutional complaint, which has not yet been decided.

In addition to the ban on the association, the public prosecutor’s office had opened further criminal proceedings against eleven people in connection with the website. These were already discontinued in 2019 and all confiscated equipment and funds were returned.

Demonstration in Berlin against the ban on Linksunten in August 2017 (CC-BY 4.0, Matthias Monroy).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.