For more than two years, the German Police profiled the movements of Cécile Lecomte, a climbing activist sitting in a wheelchair, and secretly surveilled her for several weeks. The officers should have used milder measures, according to a verdict.
Accompanied by a solidarity rally, environmental and climbing activist Cécile Lecomte won two lawsuits against the German Federal Police on Wednesday. Lecomte had challenged two surveillance measures before the Hanover Administrative Court: a covert observation lasting several weeks on the occasion of the transport of nuclear waste to Biblis in 2020 and a two-year tender for police surveillance that began the same year. Both measures were unlawful, the court ruled.
The Federal Police justified its alert in the German INPOL system by saying that Lecomte was “very active in actions, especially in the area of climate protection and anti-nuclear issues.” In doing so, she had wanted to “attract the attention of the general public.” On her blog, she had also published the date of the nuclear waste transport, the police argues.
The activist has been in a wheelchair for years after a progressive illness. “A severely disabled activist endangers the state because she can climb and takes part in high-profile actions?” asked Lecomte ahead of the trial.
The administrative court agreed with this view: The chamber had “already doubts that there was a concrete danger to life and limb.” In support of this, the judges also cited the plaintiff’s “climbing skills”, which made the “probability of harm occurring” appear extremely low. In addition, the Federal Police would have needed a court order for the secret observation. This had been confirmed by the Federal Constitutional Court in several decisions.
Finally, according to the Administrative Court, the INPOL search alerts on Lecomte were also unlawful solely because they were to be used to create a movement profile of the activist. During each police check, the officers were made aware that a note existed on the activist by the INPOL system query that was customary in the process.
The “nd” obtained the INPOL entry at the time. It begins with: “Climate activist; danger of disturbance of road/rail/ship traffic; participation in blockade and abseiling actions of Robin Wood”. All officers reading this entry are asked in it to report the time, place and circumstances of a check on Lecomte to the Federal Police in Hanover. The vehicles she used were to be searched, it says. According to the activist, this has resulted in her being checked much longer and more thoroughly each time than the people accompanying her. In one case, this control had lasted four hours.
Lecomte learned of the surveillance measures through a Freedom of Information request in September 2021 and subsequently filed a lawsuit. In it, she pointed out that her rappelling actions had also served journalistic purposes. The Federal Police subsequently defended their measures on the grounds that Lecomte had “announced resistance” on her website regarding the nuclear transport to Biblis. In a brief to the court, the Federal Police also refers to Lecomte’s lectures on the subject of trainstopping. It also said it had acquired a “profound knowledge in the field of law of the Federal Police.”
“I sued because such surveillance measures are profound invasions of privacy,” Lecomte told “nd” after the ruling. The Federal Police had documented, for example, when and with whom she travels to her physiotherapy. Why she should pose a danger to the general public, the Federal Police had not been able to justify in the trial. With the lawsuit, the activist also wants to create publicity: “If I can be monitored like this, everyone who can climb and take actions can be monitored.”
In court, Lecomte was represented by Anna Luczak. In the area of secret police actions, there is a big legal protection gap, the Berlin lawyer told “nd”. “The ruling will hopefully protect people who are politically active like the plaintiff in the future from having such data collections made about them by the Federal Police.”
The Federal Police wants to wait for the written reasons for the ruling and then decide on a possible appeal, a spokesman from Hanover said on request. A general rejection of surveillance of Lecomte is not the judgment anyway: As a milder measure against her, the Federal Police could choose, for example, an open observation, the administrative court said.
In 2015, the German Federal Criminal Police Office had already classified Lecomte as a “relevant person”. This can be a reason for the police to conduct further forms of covert surveillance. However, the activist also successfully defended herself against this entry in court at the time.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Lecomte at the court in Hannover.