German police stage raids after threats to pro-vaccine politician
Berlin (AFP) – German police and special forces on Wednesday launched an operation in the eastern city of Dresden after death threats were issued against a top politician who backs coronavirus vaccines, authorities said.
The security forces in Saxony staged raids following the threats from an anti-vaccine group against state premier Michael Kretschmer.
"Statements from certain members of the group suggested they might have real weapons," police said in a statement, without indicating if any arrests had been made.
The investigation was opened after journalists from public broadcaster ZDF infiltrated an encrypted Telegram chat and reported on December 7 that there were death threats allegedly issued against Kretschmer.
ZDF revealed the contents of messages allegedly involving a hundred members of the chat group "linked by their opposition to vaccines, to the state and the current health policies", the public prosecutor's office said.
Audio messages called for opposing "if necessary with weapons" the measures in place, targeting politicians and in particular, state premier Kretschmer.
Authorities suspected "the preparation of a violent crime that threatens the state", Saxony police said on Twitter.
A large, partly radicalised movement has emerged in Germany against health restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is particularly strong in Saxony, in former communist East Germany, one of the regions worst hit by the resurgent coronavirus and where the vaccination rate is lower than the national average.
At the beginning of December, protestors gathered outside the house of the Saxony state minister of health with torches and whistles, a demonstration which was condemned by politicians.
In the midst of a strong fourth wave of the virus, the German government decided to strengthen restrictions on unvaccinated people, banning them from public venues, restaurants and non-essential commerce.
Compulsory vaccination could be voted on by the German parliament in the coming weeks, with the obligation to get the jab coming into force in February or March.
The number of individuals opposed to the health restrictions and prepared to use violence was between 15,000 and 20,000, Social Democrat security expert Sebastian Fiedler said on Tuesday in an interview with the German daily Bild.
The former East German states, including Saxony, are particularly fertile territory for the new fringe movement.
Public protests against the restrictions are almost daily and sometimes result in violence.
The president of Germany's conference of interior ministers, Thomas Strobl, has called for a strong response from the federal government.
Individuals who threatened the constitution "leave the common ground of our democracy and will be held to account using all the power's available under the rule of law," Strobl, the interior minister in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told the Funke media group.
The Telegram messaging app at the centre of the police investigation has itself come under fire from the government.
"We have to act more resolutely against incitements to violence and hatred on the internet," the new federal interior minister Nancy Faeser said on Monday, noting that the messaging services were "subject to the same rules as Twitter or Facebook" to counter illegal content.
© 2021 AFP