German police stage new raid over Telegram death threat

German investigators on Thursday raided the property of a 56-year-old suspect accused of having made death threats against a leading politician in a Telegram chat railing against coronavirus curbs.

The messaging app Telegram.
The messaging app Telegram. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The unnamed suspect had allegedly posted a photo of Manuela Schwesig, state premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with the message that she will be picked up “either by a police car, in a straitjacket by an ambulance or by a hearse”.

Investigators seized data carriers from the property in the Baltic seaside city of Rostock, said prosecutors in a statement.

If convicted of making insulting, defamatory or slanderous statements against a political figure, the suspect risks up to three years in prison.

Over the last months, a rash of death threats has appeared in increasingly virulent chats online against politicians and Germany’s policies to curb Covid 19 infections.

In a series of raids in mid-December over threats made against another state premier, weapons were seized from the homes of six suspects, who are being investigated for allegedly “preparing a violent crime that threatens the state”.

With many of these threats made on Telegram, federal police last week announced they were setting up a special force to investigate offending posts on the app, identifying and prosecuting authors.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has also warned that if Telegram fails to cooperate with efforts to stamp out illegal behaviour, the government could ban the service completely.

READ ALSO: Germany considers ban on Telegram over fears of conspiracy theorists

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German police investigate death threats against pro-vaccine politician

German police and special forces on Wednesday launched an operation in the eastern city of Dresden after death threats were issued against a top politician who backed coronavirus vaccines, authorities said.

Saxony special forces raid in Dresden
Saxony special forces police conduct a raid on a house in Dresden believed to have a connection with death threats against CDU politician Michael Kretschmer on December 15th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

The security forces in Saxony acted following the threats from an anti-vaccine group against Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer.

“Statements from certain members of the group suggested they might have real weapons,” police said in a statement.

Last week, special forces officials announced that a Telegram chat group called ‘Dresden Offline Connection’ was involved.

In their communication and in conversations at secret and partly openly filmed meetings in the greater Dresden area, there had been statements about assassination plans concerning Kretschmer and other representatives of the state government.

An investigation was opened after journalists from public broadcaster ZDF infiltrated the Telegram chat and reported on December 7th that there were death threats allegedly issued against Kretschmer.

ZDF revealed the contents of messages allegedly involving a hundred members of the chat group “linked by their opposition to vaccines, to the state and the current health policies”, the prosecutor said.

Audio messages called for opposing “if necessary with weapons” the Covid measures in place, targeting politicians — Kretschmer in particular.

Authorities suspected “the preparation of a violent crime that threatens the state”, Saxony police said on Twitter.

Anti-vaccination movement 

A large movement has emerged in Germany against health restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is particularly strong in Saxony, in former East Germany, one of the regions worst hit by the resurgent coronavirus and where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.

At the beginning of December, protestors gathered outside the house of the Saxony state minister of health with torches and whistles, a demonstration which was condemned by politicians.

Michael Kretschmer
Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer (CDU) leaves the state chancellery on November 30th, 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

READ ALSO: Germany’s new government condemns ‘aggressive’ anti-vax movement

In the midst of a strong fourth wave of the virus, the German government decided to strengthen restrictions on unvaccinated people, banning them from public venues, restaurants and non-essential commerce.

Compulsory vaccination could be voted on by the German parliament in the coming weeks, with the obligation to get the jab coming into force in February or March.

The number of individuals opposed to the health restrictions and prepared to use violence was between 15,000 and 20,000, Social Democrat security expert Sebastian Fiedler said on Tuesday in an interview with the German daily Bild.

Telegram should ‘eliminate hate and agitation’

The news also comes amid growing calls for action against Telegram.

Speaking to the Augsburger Allgemeine on Wednesday, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said the encrypted messaging service was becoming a central route for hate and agitation on the internet.

“First of all, one has to make the clear demand to Telegram to eliminate hate and agitation and also make it legally binding,” he said. “Should that service then not agree to help, then there are also ways to block it.” 

READ ALSO: German protests against Covid restrictions turn nasty

The Federal Office of Justice categorises Telegram as a social network, rather than a simple messaging service – meaning that it falls under the same regulations as Facebook and Twitter. Under these laws, criminal content should be blocked or deleted quickly.

According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, supporters of the Covid-denier scene often use the service to spread their messages and mobilise for demonstrations and events.

By Sebastien Ash, with additional reporting by The Local


Special forces – (die) Spezialkräfte

Death threats – (die) Morddrohungen 

Encrypted – verschlüsselt 

Legally binding – rechtlich verbindlich

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