The ban on linksunten.indymedia remains in force. The Federal Administrative Court has dismissed the complaint of the alleged operators against the ban. They now announce a constitutional complaint.
The linksunten.indymedia website remains banned. With their lawsuit against the Federal Interior Ministry the alleged operators have failed. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig dismissed the case on Wednesday evening. However, the court did not even examine whether the ban is legal at all. The plaintiffs therefore announced a constitutional complaint. “Such an attack on the freedom of the press must be open to judicial review. But the court refuses to examine the content”, lawyer Sven Adam said, Adam represents the plaintiffs.
Linksunten.indymedia was launched in 2009 as a spin-off of the international Indymedia network. Basically everybody could write articles on the platform and do so anonymously. For instance, claim of responsibility appeared there after attacks with paint bags or calls for demonstrations, but also instructions on how to build incendiary devices.
In August 2017, the then Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, banned the website. A few weeks after the riots during the G20 summit in Hamburg, the CDU politician said that linksunten.indymedia was the “most important internet platform for violent left-wing extremists in Germany”. netzpolitik.org reported in detail on the background of the proceedings in the run-up to the trial.
The Court did not even examine the ban
The five suspected operators, who had received the ban order and whose homes in Freiburg had been searched in connection with the proceedings, had filed a law suit. They did so as private individuals. However, the court is of the opinion that only the association may file a complaint against the ban of an association – provided its members have decided to do so. In the case of linksunten.indymedia, however, it is still unclear who these members are.
The alleged operators of linksunten.indymedia argued that this association did not exist. They are also not a member of such an association. This may have a specific reason: Criminal proceedings in connection with linksunten.indymedia had also been discontinued because the responsible public prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe could not identify any suspects. If the suspected operators were now to admit that they operate the website, they would possibly be subject to criminal prosecution.
The Federal Administrative Court has significantly curtailed the legal protection against bans on associations, said Ulf Buermeyer, chairman of the Society for Civil Liberties, to netzpolitik.org. “Basically, it requires the actors behind an association to expose themselves to the risk of criminal prosecution in order to be able to defend themselves against an association ban at all”. Buermeyer called the court’s decision schizophrenic. “On the one hand, the plaintiffs were served with the ban of the ‘association’ because they represent the ‘association’ from the federal point of view. Nevertheless, the same people should not be able to sue against the ban. It doesn’t add up.
Because the plaintiffs lacked the authority to sue, the court did not even examine the actual ban of the website, but only found that linksunten.indymedia is in fact an association in the sense of the law on associations – a definition that leaves a lot of legal leeway.
In principle, the law on associations also applies to associations that are press organisations
The plaintiffs were primarily concerned with the procedure chosen by the Federal Ministry of the Interior. In order to enforce the ban, authorities had referred to the law on associations. It was disputed whether the Telemedia Act should have been applied instead, as stipulated in the State Broadcasting Treaty.
In that case, the hurdles for a ban would have been much higher, and it is not the Federal Ministry of the Interior that is responsible, but the state institution for communication in Stuttgart. They would have had to complain about some of the more than 200,000 articles published, instead of having the entire website taken offline.
Under these circumstances, the organisation Reporters Without Borders had accused authorities of deliberately avoiding a “legal balancing of the fundamental right to press freedom”. For linksunten.indymedia was “in spite of everything” a “journalistic online portal”.
The court has now made it clear that even an association that acts as a press organ is included in the law on associations and can be banned under its application. Although it did not want to examine the concrete case of the ban of linksunten.indymedia, it has possibly made a fundamental decision.
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