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German prosecutors confirm Last Generation wiretaps

June 25, 2023

German officials have been monitoring the communications of the Last Generation climate activists, according to the Munich public prosecutor. The group decried the surveillance as "absurd."

Last Generation pprotesters in central Berlin, image from May 24, 2023, soon after the group was put under criminal investigation.
Some of Last Generation's largest protests followed news that the group was being put under investigationImage: JONAS GEHRING/aal/IMAGO

Munich investigators have been tapping various communications by the Last Generation climate activist group, Munich's public prosecutor confirmed on Sunday, following media reports about the surveillance.

This includes phones, emails, and voicemails linked to the group or some of its members, the prosecutor told German news agency dpa on Sunday. 

Bavarian authorities are currently investigating the group on the preliminary suspicion of forming or supporting a criminal organization. The investigation follows Last Generation's campaign of public climate-related protests, often involving either blocking traffic on roads or throwing liquids or paint on works of art, and more recently on buildings, private planes, and private boats.

Munich-based daily newspaper the Süddeutsche Zeitung first broke the story earlier in the week, saying the process had begun last October. It said the phone lines monitored included the climate activist group's press hotline. 

A spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Munich told DPA that journalists had not been targeted, "however they were affected by the measures because of phone calls made to the monitored phone numbers." He also said issues like the freedom of the press had "of course" been "appropriately weighted" when deciding whether to permit the wiretaps.

In some cases, the cell phones of members of the group were also monitored, as were email accounts, as well as the GPS location data on mobile phones.

Leipzig, May 24, 2023: A crowd of people hold a large banner that translates as "protecting the climate is not a crime."
Last Generation argues that a criminal investigation against it is absurdImage: Christian Grube/IMAGO

Last Generation calls measures 'absurd' 

This weekend, Last Generation issued a statement calling the monitoring unnecessary and dismissing criminal investigations against the group as baseless. 

"We protest giving our names and showing our faces, publish our plans, and accept the legal consequences," the group wrote on Twitter. "Nevertheless Bavaria's LKA [regional criminal investigative police] protocols our telephone calls, emails and tracks our movements. Even our press phone line was spied on. That is absurd!" 

The group's spokeswoman Carla Hinrichs also said on her personal social media account that details of personal calls, like comforting a friend after a breakup or telling parents personal news, were now being noted down in a public prosecutor's casefiles. "That's my reality," she said. 

Lars Castelluci, a member of the Bundestag parliament with the Social Democrats (SPD), tried to argue both sides of the coin speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper about the issue on Saturday. 

"The concerns about a radicalization of the climate movement are to be taken seriously," he said. "But the investigation into the possible formation of a criminal group should not be an invitation to enact measures that are themselves liable to radicalize the suspects." 

Meanwhile, the leader of the post-communist Left Party, Dietmar Bartsch, alleged that the entire case against the group was an election campaign stunt emanating from the conservative state government in Bavaria. 

Bartsch called the wiretapping "disporportionate" and said it "shows that it is wrong to politically influence our prosecutors' offices. They are being misused for the purposes of an inappropriate election campaign."

Bavaria's next state elections take place on October 8. 

Why is the group being investigated, and what has changed since?

Bavaria's prosecutors launched criminal investigations into the group, including police raids against some members, last month. This received a mixed response in public, with some calling it an overreaction and others welcoming the move. 

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser recently said 580 potential criminal offenses had been attributed to the group or its members since the start of 2022, many related either to coercion (in this case usually in the form of delaying people on the roads by blocking their path) or to vandalism or damage to property.

Faeser, who is from the left-leaning SPD, had defended the police action against the group. She argues that some of Last Generation's protest actions had been disproportionate and even risked alienating people from the ecologist cause. 

Since the investigation has been launched, Last Generation has altered its protesting tactics to focus on less publicly disruptive targets — rarely gluing themselves to the roads or entering art galleries of late.

Instead, they have been spraying paint on public or commercial buildings, or on smaller private aircraft and boats, saying this is an effort to cause less disruption to ordinary people and more to more prolific carbon emitters in society. 

msh/dj (AFP, dpa)

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