Since the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, travel bans have been imposed on left-wing activists – but this was first introduced against football fans. Now the German Federal Police prevented the chairman of the VVN-BdA from leaving the country at the airport.
Already on 24 February, the Federal Police in Germany had prevented the chairman of the Association of Persecuted Nazis – Anti-Fascists (VVN-BdA), Florian Gutsche, from leaving the country at Berlin airport. The organisation made the announcement earlier this week. Gutsche was on his way to Bulgaria, where he wanted to participate as an observer in international protests against the fascist “Lukov March” in Sofia.
The 34-year-old was released with a six-page “exit ban” that applied to any foreign travel that weekend. Such a travel ban is possible under the Passport Act; in the case of a violation, there is the threat of detention.
Before, the police had held and questioned Gutsche for two hours and also searched his luggage. A black jumper, a black jacket, a flag and a brochure of the VVN-BdA were found. The Federal Police saw “paraphernalia that can clearly be attributed to left-wing phenomena”. Gutsche was then accused of wanting to take part in violent clashes in Sofia.
In left-wing contexts, “exit bans” have been known at least since the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001; Berlin’s social democratic interior senator Ehrhart Körting commented: “There is no constitutional right to leave the country”. However, the bans have their origins in football. At the 1998 World Cup in Lens, France, gendarme Daniel Nivel was severely injured by German hooligans.
The attack in France led to new forms of cooperation between European police forces, including the increased exchange of personal data on potential “troublemakers” in order to be able to impose either exit or entry bans. Also since the G8 summit, politicians have regularly called for the introduction of a European “troublemaker file”; so far, however, these data collections exist – as in Germany – only at national level.
The Federal Police had always justified their “exit bans” against football fans by saying that they could damage “the reputation of the Federal Republic of Germany abroad”. This text module was initially adopted for left-wing and later also right-wing political activists. The same wording can also be found in the order that the antifa activist Gutsche received from the Federal Police.
It is questionable how the officers at Berlin airport became aware of Gutsche. Because Bulgaria is not yet a full Schengen member, travellers there have to go through a passport control. There, Gutsche was already expected by an officer in plain clothes, he confirms to “nd”.
It is possible that the Federal Police were informed by the airline about the upcoming trip. This is the assumption of the travel blogger Edward Hasbrouck, who lives in the USA and has been drawing attention to this clandestine search technique for years. The basis for the technique is the Air Passenger Data Act, with which the German government is implementing an EU regulation. Travel agencies and airlines must transmit travellers’ data to a “Passenger Information Unit” at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) when booking a flight, and a second time when boarding the plane.
The personal data is automatically checked against police databases in Germany and at EU level. If the persons are listed there, a hit report is issued. This is first checked for accuracy by the BKA and then transmitted to the Federal Police “for the purpose of implementing the manhunt”. Depending on the accusation, the arrest, open or clandestine control then takes place.
Whether Gutsche was actually targeted by the Federal Police via his passenger data cannot be said with certainty. This would mean that he would also be listed in an existing file on left-wing “troublemakers” or “dangerous persons”. This could be the reason why Gutsche is attested a “left-wing extremist ideology” in the “exit ban”. The Federal Police, however, did not comment on this when asked by “nd”.
Despite the reprisals during cross-border protests, the VVN-BdA will continue to “support friendly anti-fascist and civil society groups in Eastern Europe to the best of its ability”, the organisation writes in its press release. Gutsche is considering an appeal against the ban on leaving the country. In the past, such appeals have often been successful, because the mere assumption of “certain facts” is not sufficient to impose an exit ban. The Federal Police must provide evidence of an expected “violent appearance abroad” for their danger prognosis, as ruled by the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Counter protest in Sofia (VVN-BdA).