British academic sues UAE officials over assault claims


FILE PHOTO: British academic Matthew Hedges, who has been jailed for spying in the UAE, is seen in this undated photo supplied by his wife Daniela Tejada
FILE PHOTO: British academic Matthew Hedges, who has been jailed for spying in the UAE, is seen in this undated photo supplied by his wife Daniela Tejada. Photo supplied on November 23, 2018. Daniela Tejada/Handout via REUTERS

May 5, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – A British academic, who was detained in the United Arab Emirates two years ago on spying charges, has launched legal action against a number of senior officials from the Gulf state, accusing them of assault, torture and false imprisonment.

Matthew Hedges returned to Britain in November 2018 after more than six months in detention after he was pardoned from a life sentence for espionage. His release came after the UAE had released a video of him purporting to confess to being a member of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency.

This week, lawyers for Hedges filed papers at London’s High Court against four UAE security officials, including the then head of State Security Public Prosecution in Abu Dhabi and the Commander in Chief of the Abu Dhabi police at the time.

He is seeking damages for assault, false imprisonment and the intentional infliction of psychiatric injury.

Neither the UAE government’s communications office nor the UAE foreign affairs ministry immediately responded to requests for comment on the case. The UAE has previously said Hedges had not been subjected to any physical or psychological mistreatment during his detention.

“On May 5th 2018, I was detained and tortured in the UAE,” Hedges said in a statement. “Three years later, I am still waiting for the truth and justice.”

He said the UAE authorities had refused to answer a complaint submitted to them through the British Foreign Office, while he also accused the UK ministry of not doing enough to clear his name.

Hedges, a doctoral student at Durham University, was arrested at Dubai airport after a two-week research visit. He was kept in solitary confinement for more than five months and the evidence presented against him consisted of notes from his dissertation research.

This research focused on sensitive topics in the UAE such as security structures, tribalism and the consolidation of political power in Abu Dhabi.

The claim form submitted by his law firm Carter-Ruck said Hedges expected to recover between 200,000 pounds ($278,000) and 350,000 pounds ($487,000) in damages.

($1 = 0.7183 pounds)

(Reporting by Michael Holden, Editing by William Maclean)

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Government officials side-step questions about how Australia is combatting forced labour in Xinjiang



Experts and members of the Uighur community have expressed concern that Australia does not have specific measures in place to combat the widespread use of forced labour in Xinjiang.

Government officials have dodged questions about what specific action Australia is taking to respond to concerns over the widespread use of forced labour in Xinjiang.

A parliamentary committee is considering an import ban on products and components produced in the western Chinese province under proposed laws put forward by independent Senator Rex Patrick. 

The United Nations has urged companies and countries to closely scrutinise their supply chains over concerns about the alleged detention and forced labour of ethnic-minority Uighurs in China.  

Experts and Uighurs in Australia have raised concerns that Australia does not have specific measures in place to combat the use of forced labour in Xinjiang. 

The committee examining proposed laws to bolster its response on Tuesday heard that the Australian government’s broad laws to address modern slavery don’t go far enough in responding to concerns in Xinjiang.  

Senator Rex Patrick speaks during a Senate inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra.

Senator Rex Patrick speaks during a Senate inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

In the hearing, Senator Patrick pressed government officials on how government agencies were communicating with Australian companies concerned about importing goods from Xinjiang. 

“What specific advice does DFAT or Border Force give to companies that are concerned about importing goods from Xinjiang?” Senator Patrick asked. 

In response, Australian Border Force official Frances Finney did not give specifics, pointing to publicly-available advice on the website relating to the Modern Slavery Act. 

“In the business advice we have on our internet, it doesn’t go to particular regions or locations – it goes to risk factors,” she said.  

“The Act is not set up to be pointing to particular advice on regions at this point in time.”  

Australia urged to follow other countries’ footsteps

The United Nations has cited credible reports that allege up to one million Uighurs have been held in political re-education camps in Xinjiang. China strongly denies allegations of human rights abuses.

The UN warned that Uighurs have been forcibly transferred to work in factories in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the country. 

Amid increasing concerns over the documented forced labour of Uighurs, Britain, Canada and the United States have now all made moves to slow the importation of goods from Xinjiang.  

These countries have implemented targeted measures directly aimed at preventing imports being sourced from forced labour in Xinjiang.  

Senator Patrick went on to question government officials over whether they had examined a US Department of Commerce blacklist of nearly 50 companies over alleged Xinjiang violations.

Government officials again provided no firm answer on whether the government had inspected the list to determine any connections to Australian companies. 

“We have the Modern Slavery Act, which is the obligation on all Australian businesses to look at their supply chains and report about their supply chains,” DFAT official Lucienne Manton said.

Senator Patrick questioned officials about why the government appeared not to have shown the due diligence to pursue this matter. 

“[It] appears to me there is a list that has been complied that you are aware of, but you haven’t even gone down the simple pathway of seeing if those companies have Australian connections,” he said.

“Is there any reason why the people inside DFAT have not looked at this list and said – noting the concerns that we have – [that] we need to examine this?” 

Several major global brands, including H&M, Nike and Adidas, have previously expressed concern over allegations that members of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority group are being used as forced labour. 

Ms Manton suggested the approach of other countries to address forced labour in their supply chains was not directly comparable to Australia.

“In Australia we have the Modern Slavery Act and we continue to engage with other countries on their approaches,” Ms Manton said. 

Senator Rex Patrick said the US, Canada and the UK had been issuing business advisories in relation to Xinjiang, questioning whether Australia had done the same. 

DFAT official Alice Cawte said Australia did not provide written similar adversaries, but had provided information to countries seeking guidance on the situation in Xinjiang. 

“We have had companies come to us and we tell them about our concerns about human rights and supply chain in terms of other integrity in China,” she said.

Australia introduced the Modern Slavery Act focused on stamping out modern slavery in late 2018.

The policy is due to be reviewed in 2022. 

Australia ‘behind the curve’ on addressing forced labour

A report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released last year found more than 80,000 people were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019 linked to almost 100 global brands.

ASPI Researcher James Leibold said reports of widespread forced labour required a more robust target response from the Australian government.

“The forced labour problem in Xinjiang is acute and thus requires special treatment – including a more targeted set of legislation and sanctions,” he told the hearing. 

“I believe the Australian government is kind of behind the curve here … I think we need to do more to speak out, to explore both legislation as well as other sanctions.” 

Uighurs in Australia are also pleading with the Australian government to implement stronger specific measures to ban products produced in Xinjiang.

Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women’s Association spokesperson Ramila Chanisheff said Uighurs in Australia felt deeply distressed about the situation facing family in Xinjiang.  

“Australia and the rest of the world have been too slow in responding,” she said. 

“Legislating, prohibiting and penalising the use of slave labour must be implemented and done so urgently.” 

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Biden officials employ pressure and praise against Australia to drive climate agenda



The Biden Administration have alternated between using threats and flattery to drive its climate diplomacy campaign ahead of an historic summit meeting which will include Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

A senior Biden Administration Official has commented on Australia’s climate efforts saying, “we think our colleagues in Australia recognise that there needs to be a shift”.

The official described Australia as a nation with an “advanced economy” and therefore capable of setting up mechanisms to lower emissions more rapidly than other nations.

“This summit isn’t just focused on the major emmitors it’s about the major economies and what they can contribute. You talk to the big emmitors and you talk to the advanced economies that can move quickly.”

Earlier this week Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said US diplomats would “challenge the practices” of countries which are setting the world back in the fight against global warming.

“When countries continue to rely on coal for a significant amount of their energy, or invest in new coal factories, or allow for massive deforestation, they will hear from the United States and our partners about how harmful these actions are,” he warned.

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China sanctions wife of Joe Manchin, other US and Canadian officials : worldnews


This is the best tl;dr I could make, original reduced by 78%. (I’m a bot)


China has placed sanctions on a handful of U.S. and Canadian officials in a tit for tat response amid growing tensions over the suppression of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang province.

The U.S. coordinated sanctions against China with Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom due to China’s alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.

China has denied accusations of any human rights abuses in the country.


Extended Summary | FAQ | Feedback | Top keywords: China#1 sanctions#2 **U.S.**#3 Xinjiang#4 Rights#5

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Australian Government should follow allies and impose targeted sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for cultural genocide – 16 News


Following the announcement by the EU, UK, US and Canada of targeted sanctions against Chinese officials responsible for gross human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, the Australian Greens have called on the Australian Government to take urgent action.

Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens Foreign Affairs spokesperson, said:

“The Chinese Government is committing cultural genocide against the Uighur people. Xinjiang is under mass surveillance and more than one million people have been captured and put in internment camps.

“The Australian Greens echo Marise Payne in welcoming the measures announced by our allies overnight, and share the deep concern for the mass internment of Uighur people in Xinjiang province by the Chinese Government.

“It’s time that the Australian Government turned concern into action. The Australian Government should join countries around the world and impose targeted sanctions, such as travel bans, against senior Chinese Government officials and any other entities credibly alleged to be involved with or responsible for these human rights abuses.

“If the Chinese Government’s denial that genocide is occurring is to have any credibility then they must immediately allow access for international and UN observers.”

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Penrith Panthers officials snubbed Canterbury Bulldogs’ invitation to Bankwest corporate suite over Matt Burton


Ivan Cleary was disappointed in those comments when speaking in his post-match press conference.

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“To say we’re not thinking of the kid is wrong,” Ivan said. “Would he prefer to play first grade? Of course he would. But he’s played a grand total of 11 reserve-grade games and maybe six or seven first-grade games. That’s it. He’s just turned 21, he’s got the world at his feet and who knows, the Dogs might actually thank us this time next year.

“There was a period in the pre-season where I thought he was a bit distracted. We spoke and I think since then I reckon he’s been really good. I don’t know if he’s getting dialogue from Canterbury or what but all I can see is if he’s happy, he’s training hard and he’s playing well.”

Penrith’s decision to hold on to the five-eighth is likely to be vindicated this week with Burton in line to play his first NRL game for the season. Nathan Cleary is in huge doubt after he copped a swinging arm from former teammate Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on Saturday that has left the Bulldogs winger facing up to a three-game ban on top of his sin-binning during the game.

Cleary was taken from the field late in the match and later passed the head injury assessment, however Penrith are concerned about the short five-day turnaround and the health of their star playmaker.

Matt Burton may come into the Panthers side if Nathan Cleary is deemed unfit.Credit:Getty

Cleary has an appointment with the club’s doctor on Monday morning, with the Panthers unable to make a decision until at least two nights after the head knock. If Cleary is ruled out, Burton is expected to slot into the No.7 jumper and partner Jarome Luai in the halves.

“He said he was dazed after the hit,” Luai said of Cleary. “He is the master of the team and he gets us around the park, so [going up against Melbourne] would be a bit different without Nath out there.

“It will be up to coach, if he’s out or not. We really need to start well against Melbourne. That’s something we didn’t do in the grand final, so we’re looking to do that.”

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‘They will feel our pain’: Activists call for sanctions on relatives of Myanmar military officials in Australia


Sophia Sarkis knows what it feels like to live under military rule.

The 43-year-old grew up in Myanmar but is now an Australian citizen watching the deadly coup unfold in her birthplace.

Ms Sarkis believes the Australian government should be doing more to respond to the escalating violence and wants sanctions placed on relatives of Myanmar’s military officials living in Australia.

“By doing that, if the Australian government put sanctions on their daughters and sons they will feel pain of how citizens of Myanmar people are feeling,” she told SBS News.

Ms Sarkis says at least seven children of military leaders live in Australia. Others in the community estimate it could be in the hundreds.

She said people in Myanmar are “suffering and living with a limited amount of freedom and democracy”, and that there is anger over the relatives of military officials living with freedom in Australia.

“Their daughters and sons benefitted from their family. Without their family support, they wouldn’t be living a luxurious life in Australia and splashing money – the Myanmar people’s money.”

According to the Department of Home Affairs, there were 36,900 people born in Myanmar living in Australia at the end of June 2018. More than 7,300 were on temporary visas.

‘They need to feel it personally’

Geoff Cohn from Democracy for Burma, a pro-democracy campaign group, told SBS News that the imposition of sanctions would send a powerful message.

“Where sanctions hit is when they are aimed at senior military figures and their families,” he said. “They need to feel it personally.

“They need to know that their bank accounts are under threat and they need their children to be saying ‘Dad, what have you done? My studies have been terminated, I was doing so well in Australia’.”

Greens Senator Janet Rice is also urging the federal government to investigate any links to Myanmar military officials.

She said possible options for sanctions would be visa bans, revoking work rights and freezing financial assets.

“We’re not saying that these sanctions should be automatically imposed like a blanket against all family members,” Senator Rice added. “There needs to be an assessment as to whether these family members are directly connected to the coup leaders and whether it’s appropriate to apply sanctions to them.”

A familiar diplomatic lever

The Australian government has imposed sanctions on the relatives of Myanmar military officials in the past.

In July 2008, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith cancelled the student visa of Zin Mon Aye, daughter of senior Burmese military officer Brigadier General Zin Yaw.

In making his determination, Mr Smith said she was “a person whose presence in Australia is, or would be, contrary to Australia’s foreign policy interests”.

In 2007, the Australian government introduced a financial sanctions list, targeting more than 400 senior members of the Burmese regime and their associates, including close family members.

Zin Mon Aye wasn’t on the list, but her parents were. A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade submission stated: “As the child of the next in line for the position of Chief of Airforce, she fits within the definition of those targeted by our sanctions.”

Australia has already imposed sanctions and travel bans on five Myanmar generals accused of leading a vicious crackdown on the country’s Rohingya minority in 2017.

But community groups argue the list doesn’t include current junta leaders.

Australia has suspended military cooperation with Myanmar and redirected aid to non-government organisations in response to the coup.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has expressed “grave concerns” over the escalating violence in Myanmar.

Asked about the prospect of sanctions at a doorstop earlier this month, she said the government is keeping its sanctions policy “under close review”.

“In relation to sanctions, we have of course previously sanctioned five senior members of the Tatmadaw,” she said. “We also have an embargo on any military sales to Myanmar, and we will keep our sanctions policy under close review.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne has expressed ‘grave concern’ over the situation in Myanmar.

AAP

Complicating any further action on Myanmar by the federal government is the detention of Australian academic Sean Turnell, who was advising deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi on economic policy.

Canberra has called for his immediate release.

“We seek absolutely the cessation of any armed violence against unarmed, peaceful protesting civilians,” Ms Payne said. “And in everything we are doing, we are seeking Professor Turnell’s release.”

By contrast, the United States, United Kingdom and Canada have already acted to tighten sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders.

Last week, the US imposed sanctions on two adult children of Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing.

The US Treasury Department said they “have directly benefitted from their father’s position and malign influence”.

The sanctions ban American citizens from doing business with them or the six businesses they control.

Calls for financial links to be investigated

Human Rights Watch Myanmar Researcher Manny Maung says financial links between Australia and Myanmar should also be investigated.

“We should be looking at making sure that Australian businesses don’t have any ties with military conglomerates and their subsidiaries,” she told SBS News.

The military coup in Myanmar has seen 149 people killed in a crackdown by authorities against demonstrators since seizing power on 1 February, according to the United Nations.

The United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar Thomas Andrews recently told the UN Human Rights Council that global unified action is critical.

“The coordinated actions of nations working together will be the most effective actions,” he said. “Various governments have imposed various sanctions against the military junta in Myanmar. This is welcome, but sanctions will only be effective if they are unified and coordinated.”

He also wants sanctions on the military owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.

“Myanmar’s natural gas projects will generate an estimated $1 billion in revenue this year. Without sanctions, the illegal military junta of Myanmar will be able to use these funds to support their criminal enterprise and their attacks on innocent people.” 

In a statement to SBS News, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it continues to keep its sanctions regime under “close review”.

“Australia maintains autonomous sanctions on Myanmar, including a long-standing arms embargo and targeted sanctions on a number of senior military officers. We continue to keep our sanctions regime under close review,” the statement said.

“Consistent with the approach we take on all sanctions regimes, we do not comment on whether or not any additional individuals are under consideration.”

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Tapes reveal Trump never told Georgia officials to ‘find the fraud’ but did press them to investigate


CBC News first published this Associated Press report on Jan. 9, 2021. It was updated by the AP on March 15, 2021, to correct that The Associated Press, based on information provided by a source, erroneously reported that Trump pressed the investigator to “find the fraud” and said it would make the investigator a national hero. A recording of the call made public two months later revealed that Trump did not say either and instead said that if the investigator looked into Fulton County the investigator would “find things that are gonna be unbelievable.” Trump also told the investigator: “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”

The original story is here. The corrected Jan. 9 story follows below. 


While election officials in Georgia were verifying signatures on absentee ballot envelopes in one metro-Atlanta county in late 2020, President Donald Trump pressed a lead investigator to look at a different county, saying the investigator would “find things that are gonna be unbelievable.”

Trump also told the investigator: “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”

The December phone call, described by a person familiar with it who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to describe the sensitive nature of the discussion, is yet another link in the chain of the extraordinary pressure campaign waged by Trump on state officials as he sought to overturn the results of the November election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Election officials and observers examine ambiguous ballots during the Georgia presidential election recount at a Richmond County elections facility in Augusta, Ga., on Nov. 30, 2020 (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via The Associated Press)

3 calls held over a month

It is one of at least three phone calls, held over the course of a month between early December and early January, where Trump sought help from high-level Georgia officials in subverting the election — only to be rebuffed each time. Trump lost to Biden in Georgia by 11,779 votes.

The call to the investigator preceded Trump’s Jan. 2 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which he asked election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win in the state. It occurred as election officials were conducting an audit of signatures on absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County. Trump pressed the investigator to look into Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that contains most of Atlanta.

The audit, which reviewed more than 15,000 signatures, found no cases of fraud. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation helped conduct the signature audit.

Trump and his allies have for months made false claims about Georgia’s signature verification process for absentee ballots and about the results of the November election. Among other things, they demanded an audit of the signature matches.

A worker scans ballots as the presidential recount process gets underway on Nov. 24, 2020, in DeKalb County, Ga. (Ben Gray/The Associated Press)

The White House had no immediate comment. The call was first reported on Saturday by the Washington Post, which said it was withholding the name of the investigator, who did not respond to requests for comment, because of the risk of threats and harassment directed at election officials.

Various election officials across the country and Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have said there was no widespread fraud in the election. Raffensperger and other officials in Georgia have repeatedly disputed Trump’s false claims about the election and said it was conducted freely and fairly.

Congress certified Biden’s electoral college win early Thursday — hours after a violent throng of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol.

During another call in early December, Trump pressed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to order a special session of the state legislature to subvert Biden’s victory. Kemp refused.

Trump repeatedly lashed out at Raffensperger and Kemp, both fellow Republicans, and others he saw as standing in his way of overturning his election loss.

In last week’s call with Raffensperger, Trump urged the secretary of state to change the certified results.

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said. “Because we won the state.”

Raffensperger said in response: “President Trump, we’ve had several lawsuits, and we’ve had to respond in court to the lawsuits and the contentions. We don’t agree that you have won.”

Legal experts said the call raised questions about possible election law violations by Trump, and several Democrats in the state have called for an investigation to be opened.

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NSW poised to scale up vaccine rollout as officials receive AstraZeneca jab


NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has rolled up her sleeve and received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, heralding the start of the AstraZeneca rollout in New South Wales.

Ms Berejiklian is keen to scale up the vaccine program but said NSW are still waiting on the Federal government to provide clarity on how many doses will be made available.

Two new hubs are now open in Sydney to exclusively rollout the AstraZeneca vaccine and will help support the three Pfizer vaccine hubs which are currently pumping out a shot per minute.

From next week five new regional hubs will open to the public which will be followed by the opening of 99 satellite sites to help accelerate the rollout of the vaccine.

Approximately 27,000 people have been vaccinated in Sydney.

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Monitoring the Right Wing: German Officials Seek to Turn up the Heat on the AfD



At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Thomas Haldenwang, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, invited his colleagues from the state offices to join a video conference. They didn’t know for sure what the focus of the meeting would be. But they had a pretty good idea: The far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is seen as a “suspected threat” by the BfV.

That would mean that party officials could be placed under surveillance using tools available to the secret service: observing meetings, reading emails and listening in on phone calls. AfD parliamentarians would remain off limits. On Friday, however, the Administrative Court in Cologne ruled that such surveillance could not begin until a ruling can be made on an expedited action filed by the party. The AfD is taking legal action in an attempt to block the BfV from proceeding with surveillance.

Were it allowed to go ahead, it would be a historic move against a party that began as a conservative, anti-euro movement to one suspected of being hostile to democracy. The decision to take the step was also – for the BfV and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer – a rather delicate undertaking, both politically and from the perspective of German constitutional law. On the eve of state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and half a year before the general election in Germany, the BfV is taking aim at the country’s largest opposition party.

As such, the reaction from AfD party co-heads Jörg Meuthen and Tino Chrupalla was hardly surprising. There is absolutely no basis for the surveillance, they said, “and it will not be held up in court,” they wrote in a statement.

But in the view of the BfV, there is no alternative. The agency believes that since 2019, when they began taking a closer look at the AfD, the party has slid even further to the right-wing extremist fringe. As such, the BfV leaders felt there was no way around it.

The AfD report compiled by the domestic intelligence agency is 1,001 pages long and includes exculpatory material that runs counter to suspicions of right-wing extremism. Most of it, though, is rather incriminating.

In compiling the report, which DER SPIEGEL has obtained, lawyers and experts in right-wing extremism examined hundreds of speeches, Facebook postings and appearances by AfD politicians at all levels of the party. The report includes statements from 302 functionaries, 88 of them at the federal level.

BfV agents only used publicly available material for the report. But the agency is nevertheless convinced that the result is unambiguous: There is, they believe, sufficient proof of the AfD’s anti-constitutional leanings to place the entire party under surveillance.

Could Spawn Violence

The report reads like a repugnant compendium of horrors. And it demonstrates the degree of separation between large parts of the party and the free democratic basic order. According to the confidential document, the party has a questionable relationship to democracy and human rights. It stokes hatred of Muslims and immigrants, the report concludes, and poisons the climate in the country, potentially to the point that it could spawn violence.

“A substantial portion of the party,” the agency writes in the evaluation, is not just interested in injecting a bit of polemics into the debate. Rather, “it seeks to awaken or strengthen a fundamental rejection of the German government and all other parties and their representatives.” Other politicians, the report notes, are scorned by AfD functionaries – even at senior-most levels – as “system lackeys” and as “slaves to the old parties” – the term “old parties” being standard right-wing populist terminology to refer to established political parties.

The discourse is even coarser at lower levels. AfD representatives use Nazi-era insults like “Volksverräter” when discussing their political competitors, a racially laden term which essentially means “traitor to your own people.” Or they simply call members of other parties “destroyers of Germany.” Their favorite target is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is frequently denigrated by AfD politicians as an “East German-educated enemy of democracy.” On Feb. 17, 2020, a local AfD chapter in Lower Saxony posted a photo of the chancellor in social media along with the sentence: “Those who wonder why Hitler wasn’t stopped should also ask themselves why Merkel is still in office.”

In this distorted view of Germany, the AfD is seen as the country’s savior. As the AfD chapter in Rostock put it, the party is “the last firewall standing in the way of a complete gleichschaltung,” another Nazi-era term that refers to the elimination of all dissenting voices. The BfV notes in its report that the comparison of the political situation in Germany with dictatorial or authoritarian regimes is rather “striking” given that AfD politicians have repeatedly allowed themselves to be “instrumentalized for propaganda purposes” by Russia and Syria.

The authors of the report also discuss at length how dangerous the “perpetual defamation of and contempt for the democratic order and the party’s political opponents” can be. The storming of the Capitol in the U.S., the authors write, clearly demonstrates as much, and they also go on to note that there have been concerning incidents in Germany as well, such as the occupation of the steps of the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, last summer combined with the intrusion into the Bundestag by agitators – “some of whom,” the report notes, “were there at the invitation of AfD representatives.” The document says that “violent resistance, at least among parts of the party, cannot be excluded.”

Even More Radical in the Pandemic

Almost 150 pages of the report are devoted to connections between AfD functionaries and right-wing extremist groups like the Identitarian Movement or the anti-refugee initiative “Ein Prozent” (One Percent), with which Björn Höcke, the right-wing extremist head of the AfD party in Thuringia, has shown some sympathy.

Fellow party member Hans-Christoph Berndt, floor leader for the AfD in the Brandenburg state parliament, is one of the leaders of the Association for the Future of the Homeland (“Verein Zukunft Heimat”), which BfV officials say regularly holds “Islamophobic and xenophobic demonstrations” and which has connections to the neo-Nazi milieu.

The party has become even more radical during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the BfV. AfD functionaries at all levels – all the way up to honorary party head Alexander Gauland – regularly fulminate against an alleged “corona dictatorship” that must be defeated. Germany, they say, is being ruled with “emergency powers,” federal parliamentarian Hansjörg Müller claimed at a Berlin rally. Jens Maier, a radical AfD member from Saxony, says the Infection Protection Act is an “enabling act” (“Ermächtigungsgesetz”). Both references – to emergency powers and to the enabling act – are again clear allusions to Nazi-era terminology. Hitler used emergency powers and the enabling act to put an end to the Weimar democracy in 1933.

Petr Bystron, also an AfD member of the German parliament, posted a caricature of Bavarian Governor Markus Söder on Twitter in September. It showed Söder wearing a corona mask shrunken down to look like a Hitler mustache on his upper lip. A sentence next to it read: “Never wash your (mask) at temperatures above 88 degrees.” In neo-Nazi numerology, 88 is shorthand for “Heil Hitler,” since “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

For the AfD, German domestic intelligence officials believe, the narrative of an alleged Islamization of Germany is central. Muslims are “sweepingly denigrated, vilified and repudiated” by the party, the report notes. AfD representative Lars Schieske from the state of Brandenburg wrote, for example: “It is not possible to integrate Muslims.”

The Radical Wing

The BfV has also identified anti-Semitism within the AfD, particularly at the local levels. Over and over again, members allude to a putative global elite that is pulling the strings behind the scenes. On YouTube, officials found a video of an appearance by Höcke at a local AfD chapter just outside of Berlin. In the video, he declaims a “global monetary elite” that has allied with “crypto-communists.” Their alleged goal: a world “without cultures and nations.”

One of the primary reasons why German domestic intelligence officials are now targeting the party in its entirety is the ongoing influence of the so-called “Flügel” or “Wing,” the right-wing extremist group inside the AfD. The group, of which Höcke acted as a leading voice, was formally dissolved by the party a year ago after the BfV announced it was placing the Flügel under surveillance. But officials believe its influence has continued to grow, nonetheless. The Flügel, the report reads, is not some “meaningless splinter group” within the AfD. Rather, it is “an influential current.” The report notes that all AfD parliamentary floor leaders in eastern German state parliaments belong to the network. Its “constitutionally hostile aspirations” have “seeped through the entire party,” BfV officials write.

As proof for the support enjoyed by the right-wing radicals, the BfV points, for example, to a statement made by Gauland. “Mr. Hocke represents the center of the party,” he said. The report does mention that co-party leader Meuthen’s attempt to distance himself from the Flügel at the AfD party congress last November could be seen as exculpatory. In his speech, Meuthen attacked the radical grouping and warned against associations with the Nazi period. Such links, he said, represent an “implicit trivialization of the horrific crimes of that dark era.”

Characterized by Division

In the vote for party leaders that subsequently took place, the BfV wrote, showed just how large the Flügel camp really is. They weren’t able to defeat Meuthen, but they attracted the support of around 45 percent of the delegates. That shows, the report notes, that a significant chunk of the party supports “openly extremist” positions.

Eighty pages of the report are filled with numerous examples of the influence exerted by the Flügel at the federal, state and local levels – and continues to exert today. The BfV even performed a quantitative analysis of the AfD presence in social media networks, for which it examined 676 individual accounts belonging to 473 AfD party functionaries who do not explicitly belong to the Flügel. Of those, 64 percent have links to accounts belonging to Flügel members while 52 percent reacted to or shared messages posted by Flügel members. The official dissolution of the network, the BfV says, hardly changed the situation at all.

The Office for the Protection of the Constitution speaks of “two blocks” in the party, one assembled behind Meuthen and the other behind Höcke. In addition to former members of the Flügel, Höcke’s backers also include influential party members at the federal level, such as co-party leader Chrupalla and the party’s two floor leaders in federal parliament, Alice Weidel and Gauland.

The party remains characterized by “division,” the BfV report notes. But the state cannot wait around for the AfD to find a resolution to its internal conflicts, the authors of the report write. It is necessary to “observe and understand” what is going on. And if the Flügel does ultimately get its way, the report notes, then the suspicions of hostility to the constitution will have been confirmed.

Icon: Der Spiegel

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