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February/ March 2000

Campaign against Racism & Fascism, No 54

Anti-terrorist laws A licence for repression

Anti-terrorist laws

A licence for repression

Recent events in Germany confirm CARF's worst fears about Jack Straw's new anti-terrorist proposals

On 19 December, Harald G., one of Germany's leading anti-racists and a close friend of CARF, was detained under terrorist laws after police raids in Berlin and Frankfurt. Police stormed the Mehringhof complex in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin where the asylum research project, FFM, which Harald co-founded, and scores of other political projects are based.

Inside the Mehringhof's complex, a few dozen people, recovering from a late night party, awoke at 5.30am to find 1,000 police, including masked members of the notorious GSG-9 anti-terrorist police, storming the building. Simultaneously, special commandos, including masked officers equipped with machine guns, entered Harald's home, dragging him from his bed. Similar raids in Berlin and Frankfurt led to the arrest of the Mehringhof's caretaker Axel H. and the anti-racist activist Sabine B.E. Two of the twenty people arrested in the Mehringhof raids have subsequently been deported to Belorussia and Bolivia.

The evolution of criminal/terrorist laws

Unlike in the UK, where anti-terrorist laws were, until recently (see below) annually renewable in parliament, German anti-terrorist law have gradually evolved out of an earlier law against criminal association contained in para 129 of the German criminal code. Also peculiar to the German situation has beeen the proscribing of political parties for ideology alone as the FRG's written constitution drawn up after the war was meant to protect the new Germany from the perceived evils of communism and fascism. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (equivalent to the UK's MI5) has gained a reputation for monitoring the left. After the war, it was communists and pacifists who were criminalised - even hounded from public office by a 1950 decree that suggested that loyalty to the constitution was a condition for public service employment.

But the targeting of the Left was strengthened in 1976, when the Social Democrat government of Helmut Schmidt responded to the first Red Army Faction attacks by introducing amendments to para 129 of the criminal code. §129a was to extend the definition of criminal association to terrorist groups and to extend this further still to allow for the prosecution of any perceived solidarity, verbal or active, with a criminal/terrorist association. Then, in 1986 the CDU's chancellor Kohl, seeking to crack down on anti-nuclear and environmental protests, further added to §129a by including dangerous acts against rail, boat and air traffic, destruction of important work materials and interference with public installations. Then, in the 1990s, when the right to asylum was gradually undermined and finally traken out of the German constitution in 1993, violations of the Aliens Law and the asylum procedure were defined as criminal acts under a special Anti-Crime Law (Verbrechensbekämpfungsgesetz). Internment So what danger did Harald and Axel pose to the German state? Harald was involved in the campaign to stop the criminalisation of German taxi-drivers under aiding illegal entry laws, and monitoring the trial of neo-Nazis arrested after the death of an asylum-seeker in Guben. Axel had been active in international solidarity work on central America. Yet now they find themselves in 'preventive detention' - a kind of internment (no opportunity for bail, solidarity confinement and only one half-hour visit every two weeks) - accused, among other things, of offences such as providing a munitions base for a revolutionary cell, a bomb attack on a government asylum office in 1987 and seriously injuring a federal court judge and the former chief of the Foreigners Administration in Berlin in gun attacks. Despite tearing up floors, drilling holes in walls, searching cables and electrical ducts, the police who raided the Mehringhof found no arms cache. The sole evidence against Axel Harald and Sabine is the testimony of a Berlin man, who turned state evidence under State Witness Regulations which brings lesser charges against those suspected of terrorism, if they denounce others. This law actually expired on 31 December 1999, just 12 days after the Berlin and Frankfurt raids.

Silencing opposition

Harald and Axel could be in prison for a year while the public prosecutor examines the preliminary evidence against them. In the meantime, FFM's work has been badly hit, with all anti-racist projects put on hold. At the same time, as racial violence across Germany, but particularly in Brandenburg, Berlin and Saxony reaches intolerable levels, the state is busy suppressing anti-racist opposition. Groups providing victim support are being shut in favour of the official police-backed Brandenburg Against Intolerance Project. One Brandenburg victim support group suffered a similar experience to FFM's when the public prosecutor began investigations into a member's supposed anti-nuclear terrorist offences. As the case dragged on over two years, funding for Brandenburg Victims' Perspective was suspended. Its work suffered yet more when the accused man's home was raided and the organisation's files and notebooks and interviews with the victims of racism, were confiscated. Meanwhile, in Passau the Committee for a Critical Public has been formed after vague accusations of terrorism were made against 39 anti-fascists. On one suspect's file, commitment against apartheid and 'the fight against Shell' were listed as criminal activities which gave grounds for surveillance.

Investigations drag on for months, even years, during which time campaigners are imprisoned, protest groups immobilised. The majority of prosecutions under §129a end up being thrown out of court due to lack of evidence. Its real purpose seems to be the surveillance and immobilisation of left-wing organisations. In 1998, Britain's first permanent anti-terror law was passed. The Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act broadens the scope of 'terrorism' too, to include action by animal and environmental and animal rights activists as well as refugees supporting liberation movements abroad.The German experience, whereby anti-terror law is used to stifle opposition on ideological grounds, could well be replicated in the UK unless opposition to Straw's anti-terrorist proposals mounts.