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Berlin promotes AfD member to top prosecutor

Ben KnightApril 25, 2016

Berlin state prosecutor Roman Reusch has been promoted to a position that gives him more power to deport foreign criminals. The only problem - he is a leading member of the right-wing populist AfD party.

Deutschland Mitglied der Partei AfD in Mainz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. von Erichsen

Berlin lawyers and immigrant community organizations have expressed anger at the appointment of Roman Reusch to "directing chief state prosecutor," despite being one of the chairmen of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the neighboring state of Brandenburg.

Reusch's new position gives him authority to cooperate with foreign law enforcement authorities and deport foreign criminals. According to the Turkish association of Berlin and Brandenburg (TBB), his political views make him unsuited to the job.

"It is more than worrying that a leading member of the AfD, which famously employs scorn against refugees and Islam is now getting an important position," TBB spokeswoman Ayse Demir said in a statement.

Ayse Demir, Vorstandssprecherin des Türkischen Bundes Berlin-Brandenburg
Ayse Demir called the promotion a 'scandal'Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pilick

Right to political engagement

But the Berlin prosecutor defended the appointment. "Reusch has done outstanding work," spokesman Martin Steltner told "Der Spiegel" magazine. "He is not a member of a banned organization, he has a right to be politically engaged."

The AfD, meanwhile, has professed itself to be confused at the controversy. "I don't understand it," the AfD's Brandenburg leader Alexander Gauland told the magazine. "Mr Reusch is clearly a reliable official, and his superiors have the authority to decide his professional career. If he's being promoted, then that is in accord with the normal regulations of civil service law. The fact that he belongs to the AfD plays no role in that."

Reusch's appointment is seen as particularly sensitive because of a 2007 interview in which he suggested that young offenders should be locked up as a warning. "If it is legally possible at all, then we reach for investigative custody as a means of education," he told the magazine as part of a debate.

He also made comments that many interpreted as xenophobic at the time: "Nearly 80 percent of my perpetrators have an immigrant background, 70 percent are Middle Eastern migrants. Every one of these foreign perpetrators has no business whatsoever in this country."

In response, Berlin's justice minister at the time, Gisela von der Aue, had him removed from his job as head of the repeat offenders' department.

Lawyers unite

Reusch's promotion also touched a nerve with Berlin defense lawyers, who released a statement last week condemning it. "The promotion of state prosecutor Reusch raises concern ... that the state prosecutor is willing to make itself the judicial arm of the AfD," the association of Berlin defense attorneys said. "It is damaging the potential trust in the neutrality of their decisions."

Deutschland Berlin Justizsenator Thomas Heilmann
Thomas Heilmann has been critized for the appointmentImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The lawyers added that a prosecutor who makes statements such as those quoted in "Der Spiegel" in 2007 was not suitable for his role. The TBB's Demir went further, calling it a "scandal, that a state prosecutor who was moved because of his highly discriminatory statements is now being made chief state prosecutor."

The Turkish organization also implied that Berlin politics may have played a role in the appointment. The city state is electing a new parliament in September, and the mainstream governing parties the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats are facing a challenge from the AfD. The populist party recently polled as high as 13 percent and has national momentum following successful results in three state elections in March.

The TBB warned the Berlin government, specifically current Justice Minister Thomas Heilmann, that appointing Reusch "would not bring any AfD votes."

Although it is perfectly legal in Germany for an active member of a political party to be employed in the judiciary, membership of a party on the fringes of the mainstream has been used previously (though rarely) to prevent state officials taking certain posts.

The media outlet "Heise" pointed out last week that Germany's highest administrative court ruled in 1960 that a "civil servant may ... be fired, if through his behavior he brought occasion to doubt his personal or professional suitability to take a state job for life."