​German Ban on Leftist Internet Platform Violates Media Freedom

This article was written by Katharina Mikulcak (Society for Civil Rights) and published by the Civil Liberties Union for Europe with a CC BY-NC 4.0 license.

German Ministry bans platform that was a thorn in the side of authorities

The Society for Civil Rights (GFF) has made a statement  in the proceedings to ban the use of linksunten.indymedia. In August 2017, the left-wing Internet platform was banned by the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) on the basis of the Association Act. Before this, it had been a thorn in the side of the German authorities for many years. linksunten.indymedia was regarded as an important communication channel for the left-wing and left-wing radical scene in Germany. The platform reported on demonstrations and protests but also published political opinions, which had been classified as anti-constitutional by the authorities.

Especially after the G20 protests in spring 2017 in Hamburg, there were more than 1,600 investigations against members and organs of the left-wing radical scene throughout Europe. The ban on the platform must be seen in this context.

However, the GFF sees the ban as an abuse of association law as well as a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is thus commenting on the proceedings with a so-called Amicus Curiae Brief - an instrument that originated in the American legal system and which the liberties member GFF wants to make better known in Germany.

State claims the platform breached association law

The German Federal Ministry of the Interior has banned linksunten.indymedia and several affected parties are now suing the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig. The Ministry argues that the Internet platform is backed by a group of people with all the characteristics of an association. This is prohibited because "its purposes and its activities are contrary to criminal law and it is directed against the constitutional order ".

In the eyes of the GFF, however, association law is not applicable, regardless of whether there is an association behind the Internet platform. The prohibition was justified exclusively by the contributions published on the Internet site. Therefore, it is a media law measure which falls within the competence of the federal states.

Sweeping bans violate media freedom

Moreover, the sweeping ban on the entire Internet platform is not proportionate, since the freedom of the media guaranteed by the Basic Law must be taken into account. The state should have considered less drastic measures first, argues the GFF. In particular, the competent authorities could have taken action against specific illegal content in accordance with the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (RStV). However, the alleged illegal and unconstitutional content is not so prevalent as to justify the prohibition of the entire platform.

The ban also violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had already ruled in relation to several Turkish newspapers, stating that banning an entire newspaper violates the freedom of the media guaranteed in Art. 10 ECHR, regardless of the detail. The same should apply to online media.

Case is a touchstone for how the state deals with its critics

The GFF is commenting on the ban of linksunten.indymedia because of the central importance of the procedure for the freedom of the media and to support the rule of law in general. For the human rights organisation, the Federal Ministry of the Interior’s approach is a touchstone for the state's handling of media offerings from a scene that is critical and dismissive of current political and economic conditions and sometimes breaches laws. However, it is possible to assess the freedom of the legal system by looking at how it deals with “uncomfortable” sections of society.

The Amicus Curiae Brief (lat. amicus curiae "Friend of the Court") is an external option that provides new perspectives for the litigation. This approach is not yet widespread in Germany or in large parts of Europe, while in the US it has long contributed to a more fundamental and human rights-friendly jurisdiction. The GFF has set itself the goal of establishing this means of procedural participation in the interest of fundamental and human rights in Germany as well.

Click here for the Amicus Curiae Brief  of the GFF (in German)

Tags: Germany Media freedom Online news Online media
Publication Date: 11/11/2018