German court backs intelligence agency's designation of far-right party as suspected extremist case

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's domestic intelligence agency was justified in putting the far-right Alternative for Germany under observation for suspected extremism, a court ruled Monday, rejecting an appeal from the opposition party.

The administrative court in Muenster ruled in favor of the BfV intelligence agency, upholding a 2022 decision by a lower court in Cologne. The decision means the agency can continue to observe the party.

The court found that there was a sufficient legal basis for the designation, while stressing that the step doesn't inevitably lead to the party being designated a proven case of right-wing extremism.

Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has strongly rejected the designation and portrayed it as a political attempt to discredit the party. Roman Reusch, a member of its national leadership, said the party will seek to appeal. Peter Boehringer, a deputy leader, complained that the court hadn't taken up “hundreds” of requests for evidence.

AfD was formed in 2013 and has moved steadily to the right over the years. Its platform initially centered on opposition to bailouts for struggling eurozone members, but its vehement opposition to then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to allow in large numbers of refugees and other migrants in 2015 established the party as a significant political force.

AfD has enjoyed strong support in recent months as discontent is high with center-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s three-party coalition government. It hopes to emerge as the biggest party in three state elections in the formerly communist east, where it has its strongest support, in September.

However, it may have been hurt somewhat by a media report in January that extremists met to discuss the deportation of millions of immigrants, including some with German citizenship, and that some figures from the party attended. The report triggered mass protests in the country against the rise of the far-right.

In Monday’s ruling, the court found there was a valid suspicion that “recognizing only a legally devalued status for German citizens with a migration background corresponds with the political objectives at least of a significant part of AfD.” It didn’t elaborate on details but said there were indications of “discriminatory objectives.”

It also pointed to widespread use in the party of derogatory terms toward refugees and Muslims and indications of anti-democratic aspirations, though it said the latter were not of the frequency and density surmised by the BfV.

The court said there were no indications that the intelligence agency acted out of improper political motives.

In an unrelated case, a verdict is expected Tuesday in the trial of one AfD's best-known figures, Björn Höcke, on charges of using a Nazi slogan. Höcke is the party's leader in the eastern region of Thuringia, where he plans to run for governor in September. Höcke says he is innocent.

Last month's arrest of an assistant to AfD's top candidate in the upcoming European Parliament elections on suspicion of spying for China also cast an unflattering light on the party, which already faced criticism for having Russia-friendly positions.