German intelligence can’t spy on AfD, court rules

A German administrative court ruled Tuesday that the country's domestic intelligence agency had illegally declared that it was stepping up watch of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).

German intelligence can't spy on AfD, court rules
AfD Thüringen's Björn Höcke in November, after his re-election as chairman of the party. Photo: DPA

Ruling in favour of the AfD, the Administrative Court in Cologne said the BfV security agency overstepped its mandate when it in January announced that the party was a so-called Prüffall, or a review case.

Declaring the entire party as a case for heightened monitoring “conveys a negative effect to the public”, said the court.

Such infringements to the rights of a political party can be made only if there is explicit legal authorization, noted the court.

SEE ALSO: Should the AfD be spied on? What you need to know

The intelligence service's move was therefore “unlawful and disproportionate,” it ruled.

The decision came after the AfD filed for expedited proceedings, ahead of the May 2019 European elections and three German state polls to be held in  September and October.

The five-year-old AfD or Alternative for Germany, the country's biggest opposition party, opposes multiculturalism, Islam and the immigration policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom it labels a “traitor”.

In its January 15th decision to step up monitoring of the AfD, the BfV said it had “first indications of AfD's policies that go against free-democratic  fundamentals.”

SEE ALSO: German intelligence agency to step up surveillance of AfD

But the agency shied away from immediate full surveillance of the entire party, as details gathered so far were deemed insufficient to warrant blanket monitoring including phone and email taps, the use of undercover informants and collection of personal data on MPs.

The BfV can place under surveillance individuals and groups, including politicians and parties it considers “extremist” and threatening to the state's liberal democratic order.

It has in the past placed under surveillance some lawmakers of the far-left  opposition Die Linke party, which emerged in part from the former East Germany's communist party.

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Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow

German police arrested a Russian scientist working at an unidentified university, accusing him of spying for Moscow, prosecutors said on Monday, in a case that risks further inflaming bilateral tensions.

Germany arrests Russian scientist for spying for Moscow
Vladimir Putin. Photo: dpa/AP | Patrick Semansky

Federal prosecutors said in a statement that the suspect, identified only as Ilnur N., had been taken into custody on Friday on suspicion of “working for a Russian secret service since early October 2020 at the latest”.

Ilnur N. was employed until the time of his arrest as a research assistant for a natural sciences and technology department at the unnamed German university.

German investigators believe he met at least three times with a member of Russian intelligence between October 2020 and this month. On two occasions he allegedly “passed on information from the university’s domain”.

He is suspected of accepting cash in exchange for his services.

German authorities searched his home and workplace in the course of the arrest.

The suspect appeared before a judge on Saturday who remanded him in custody.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Neither the German nor the Russian government made any immediate comment on the case.

However Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

Italy this month said it had created a national cybersecurity agency following warnings by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Europe needed to
protect itself from Russian “interference”. 

The move came after an Italian navy captain was caught red-handed by police while selling confidential military documents leaked from his computer to a Russian embassy official.


The leaders of nine eastern European nations last month condemned what they termed Russian “aggressive acts” citing operations in Ukraine and “sabotage” allegedly targeted at the Czech Republic.

Several central and eastern European countries have expelled Russian diplomats in solidarity with Prague but Russia has branded accusations of its involvement as “absurd” and responded with tit-for-tat expulsions.

The latest espionage case also comes at a time of highly strained relations between Russia and Germany on a number of fronts including the ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has moreover worked to maintain a sanctions regime over Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the scene of ongoing fighting between pro-Russia separatists and local forces.

And Germany has repeatedly accused Russia of cyberattacks on its soil.

The most high-profile incident blamed on Russian hackers to date was a cyberattack in 2015 that completely paralysed the computer network of the Bundestag lower house of parliament, forcing the entire institution offline for days while it was fixed.

German prosecutors in February filed espionage charges against a German man suspected of having passed the floor plans of parliament to Russian secret services in 2017.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week said Germany was expecting to be the target of Russian disinformation in the run-up to its general election in September, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

Russia denies being behind such activities.

Despite international criticism, Berlin has forged ahead with plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, set to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany.