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German far-right party wins court case against minister

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, attends a news conference on politically motivated crimes in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Fabrizio Bensch/Pool via AP)
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, attends a news conference on politically motivated crimes in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Fabrizio Bensch/Pool via AP)

BERLIN – Germany's top security official violated the rights of a far-right party by posting remarks criticizing it on his ministry's website, the country's highest court ruled Tuesday.

The Alternative for Germany party, known as AfD, whose anti-migration and anti-establishment stance helped it get into the German parliament in 2017, is currently the largest of several opposition parties.

Its case against Interior Minister Horst Seehofer stems from an interview that his ministry posted on its website in 2018, in which he decried a broadside by AfD against President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. AfD had accused Steinmeier of drumming up support for a “radical left-wing event” after he backed a left-wing punk group's anti-racism concert, and the party sought to debate his budget in parliament.

Seehofer described AfD's behavior as “undermining the state” and asserted that “they stand against this state. They can say 1,000 times that they are democrats ... this is highly dangerous for our state.”

The Federal Constitutional Court found that parties must be allowed to compete on an equal footing. Presiding Judge Andreas Vosskuhle said the legitimacy of the government's public relations work “ends where advertis ing for or exerting influence against individual parties or people in political competition begins.”

The court found that the government is entitled to defend itself publicly against criticism of its policies using official channels, but should avoid comments that have no substantial link to the criticism and are “distorting or disparaging.”

The verdict has no direct consequences for Seehofer. The interview was taken down from his ministry's website a little over two weeks after it was posted there.

AfD won a similar previous case against Johanna Wanka, a former education minister, who had countered the AfD slogan “Red Card for (Chancellor Angela) Merkel" by issuing a press release declaring that “the red card should be shown to AfD and not the chancellor.”