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German domestic intelligence chief under fire

September 8, 2018

Politicians from several parties are pressuring Hans-Georg Maassen for explanations after he denied far-right extremists had "hounded" foreigners at Chemnitz protests. Maassen is to face parliamentarians this week.

Hans-Georg Maassen in half-shadow
Image: Reuters/A. Schmidt

The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV), Hans-Georg Maassen, came under more pressure on Saturday to explain comments that some see as downplaying the danger posed by far-right extremists at protests in the eastern city of Chemnitz two weeks ago.

In an interview with the mass-circulation Bild newspaper published Friday, Maassen voiced skepticism that far-right protesters had "hounded" foreigners during a demonstration on August 26. He also called into question the authenticity of a video purporting to show demonstrators chasing after a person they believed to be a migrant.

The premier of the state of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil of the Social Democrats, told Funke Media Group newspapers that "question marks were starting to mount up" with him as to whether Maassen was up to his job.

In comments published Saturday, Weil said it was troubling that Maassen had suggested that the video might be deliberate misinformation without producing evidence for his claim.

"Otherwise, such comments fuel suspicion that he is protecting right-wing extremists," Weil said.

Read more: Extremist crimes in Germany down, number of fanatics up

Demonstration  Pro Chemnitz
Right-wing protests have been continuing in ChemnitzImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer

At odds with the chancellor

Weil's comments echo those made by Green and Left politicians.

"I don't expect any trustworthy assessments from Mr. Maassen any more," said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the parliamentary party leader for the Greens. "The fact that he only commented on a video, but not on the acts of violence and the public displays of anti-constitutional symbols in Chemnitz, shows me that Mr. Maassen is not up to the job."

The chairwoman of the Left Party, Katja Kipping, also stated that Maassen was "not tenable in this position."

Maassen's comments were also at odds with those made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has said videos made at the protests showed "that there was targeted harassment."

Prosecutors leading the investigation into the far-right demonstration in Chemnitz have also said there was no evidence that a video showing far-right attacks was fake.

Dresden prosecutor Wolfgang Klein told Die Zeit newspaper on Saturday that his office considered the video as genuine evidence. He said suggestions by Maassen that the video may have been shot elsewhere or at another time were not borne out by examination of the footage.

Read more:Resist hate with open debate, not censorship, urges rights advocate 

Questions to be answered

The domestic affairs expert for Merkel's Christian Democrats, Armin Schuster, told Reuters news agency that Maassen would answer parliamentarians' questions about his comments at special meetings next week, including in front of a parliamentary committee that oversees Germany's spy agencies. He said he hoped for "more facts than suppositions" and a chance for Maassen to justify himself.

Maassen, who took up his position as BfV chief in 2012, has recently also been criticized for unexplained meetings with members of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. A book by a former AfD member has even alleged that during one such meeting, with former AfD chairwoman Frauke Petry, Maassen gave tips for avoiding monitoring by the BfV. Maassen  has denied the claims.

A report that a Jewish restaurant in Chemnitz was a target of far-right extremists during the protests at the end of August has further undermined claims by the premier of the state of Saxony, where the city is located, that reports of mob violence at the protests were willfully exaggerated.

The far right: Can Germany defeat its demons?

tj/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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