At the G20 summit, journalists’ accreditation was withdrawn – with dubious reasons. It was feared that reporters could throw cameras at state guests. A complaint from journalists is being heard today.
The Ministry of the Interior spoke of "a number of people with crimes and convictions". Government spokesman Steffen Seibert referred to the "urgent advice to revoke the accreditation", to oppose this safety assessment, would have been irresponsible. That was in July 20 journalists had their accreditation for the G20 meeting withdrawn. Of course, those affected could not explain why they were suddenly declared a security risk.
When they received information from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) after weeks, the astonishment was even greater: the INPOL police network file contained long lists of alleged criminal offenses, some of which were up to 15 years ago.
Lots of entries wrong
However, research by the ARD capital studio showed that many of the police entries were incorrect or related to investigative proceedings that were mostly discontinued at an early stage. In addition, there were obvious errors such as name mix-ups. An NDR presenter was excluded from the summit because he was mistaken for a right-wing extremist Reich citizen.
Data protectionists and constitutional lawyers agreed: the entries were mostly illegal and therefore more evidence of the desolate quality of the police files than a solid foundation for a serious interference with the fundamental right of freedom of the press.
The federal government subsequently admitted errors in four of the 32 cases, but has insisted to this day that the accreditation of the remaining 28 journalists was rightly withdrawn. Nine of them then sued. The first hearing will take place today before the Berlin Administrative Court.
Negotiation in Berlin
It’s about the complaints of the freelance journalists Raffael Heygster and Sebastian Friedrich. There is not a single police entry for Friedrich, who has now completed an NDR traineeship and continues to work for the station. In return, the Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution came to the conclusion that he was an activist on the left-wing extremist scene: "He was involved in or had contact with groups that were prone to violence and mobilized to protest against the G20 summit," the information said, without any further evidence.
In fact, Friedrich was editor of the left-wing newspaper "Analyze und Critique" until 2017 and in this capacity also wrote about social movements. Heygster’s computer at least one case of "trespassing" from 2015 can be found in the BKA computer. In reality, as a photographer, he reported on a squatting at the time. His details were found by the police, but the proceedings were quickly dropped.
A typical case that explains why there are a particularly large number of photographers among the discredited journalists: Anyone who reports on protests with the camera is regularly checked by the police. The fact that the data are then stored in the police computers for years as "left-wing extremist crimes" and recorded by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as left-wing extremist activism only became public through the events of the G20. The lawsuit forced the Federal Office to justify its decision in much more detail than government spokesman Seibert had done in the weeks after the summit.
The 22-page response that WDR has received initially paints a drastic picture of the chaotic conditions on the eve of the summit. Until then, the federal government and the BKA had agreed that there were no journalists’ safety concerns that would justify withdrawal of their accreditation.
But when there were massive riots on the streets of Hamburg, the security authorities temporarily lost control. In this situation, a warning from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution burst that four left-wing extremists from southern Germany had accredited themselves as journalists in order to disrupt the summit.
In a panic reaction, not only were the four named persons denied access to the G20, but also all other journalists about whom the BKA and BfV had received information in advance. The statement of defense also provides information about the specific fears.
The BKA’s assessment of the situation seriously assumed that one of the journalists could throw "his shoe or a video camera" at one of the foreign heads of government. Even if there were no or only minor injuries, the "negative symbolic value of any physical attacks" had to be included in the safety considerations.
"Kinship for journalists"
With all this, the Federal Press Office admits that there are no connections between the four alleged Freiburg activists and the other journalists excluded from the summit. For the withdrawal of the accreditation it was not necessary for them to pose a specific security risk, according to the brief.
Heygster’s lawyer therefore accuses the federal government of "kin detention for journalists", which is incompatible with the fundamental right of freedom of the press. The chronological presentation of the Federal Government also makes it clear that the trigger for the decision to withdraw accreditation was probably wrong. Because the protection of the Constitution counts in a confidential note, which is available to the WDR, the Stuttgart photographer Julian Rettig to the four-man left-wing extremist group.
However, he credibly denies that the alleged Freiburg ringleader S.W. to know at all. There is no evidence of any left-wing extremist involvement in Rettig on the Internet. Entries at INPOL that were in connection with a professional assignment turned out to be simply incorrect during a check and have since been deleted. His press photos continue to appear in many local newspapers in Stuttgart and also in major national media. Julian Rettig has also sued the Federal Press Office.