In the early morning of 20 June 2018, German police forces raided several locations – the headquarters of the privacy group Zwiebelfreunde, and the homes of three of its board members, as well as the association OpenLab, which is part of EDRi member Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Augsburg. Zwiebelfreunde promotes and creates privacy enhancing technologies, and educates the public in their use. The board members are not considered suspects but witnesses in an ongoing investigation.
The locations were raided because of an alleged connection to an anonymous internet website, which called for protests against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The author of the blog published “calls for protest”, which the police believes included incitement to violence. During the investigation, a riseup.net e-mail address was found connected to the blog. Zwiebelfreunde facilitates European donations to Riseup, a non-commercial alternative to popular e-mail services based in the US. In other words, the police raids were based solely on Zwiebelfreunde’s connection to the e-mail provider which was used by the author of the blog.
In addition, the judicial warrant seems to not have been respected during the searches. Some items and equipment taken were not covered by the warrant, including items belonging to family members of Zwiebelfreunde’s board members. The confiscated documentation goes back to 2011, although the warrant included only the period after January 2018. The representatives of the group said: “We argue that even the original warrants and seizures were a clear overreach, and that this was used as an excuse to get access to members’ and donors’ data. We have nothing to do with Riseup’s infrastructure. During the raids, the police forces clearly gave the impression that they knew we had nothing to do with either Riseup or the blog. None of us had even heard of that blog before!”
During these raids, the premises of Open Lab, used by members of the CCC, were searched as well. While searching for members and bank accounts information, the police allegedly came across chemicals, chemical formulas, and other equipment which was believed to be used in productions of explosives. Three people were arrested, and the premises were further searched without a court order. The suspicions turned out to be false as the “dangerous” chemicals were identified as computer circuit cleaning products. The “dangerous explosive” can be seen in action on a YouTube video.
The searches followed the adoption of the widely criticised Bavarian Police Act that went into effect in May 2018. This law gives the Bavarian police extended powers. “This is a textbook example of how easy the fundamental rights of completely innocent citizens and their families can be violated as a result of artificially constructed evidence chains, no matter how ridiculous. To be drawn into this case as a witness on the basis of such patently unsustainable reasoning is questionable to say the least. The recent introduction of draconian Bavarian laws governing police authority has clearly led to a culture where those responsible no longer feel bound by any sense of proportionality of their actions“, said Frank Rieger, spokesperson of CCC.
Zwiebelfreunde plans to take legal action against the overreaches of police power. You can follow future developments on their website.
Bavarians protest against vastly extended police powers (16.05.2018)
Police searches homes of „Zwiebelfreunde“ board members as well as „OpenLab“ in Augsburg (04.07.2018)
Coordinated raids of Zwiebelfreunde at various locations in Germany (04.07.2018)
Chaos Computer Club kritisiert Vorgehen der Polizei (04.07.2018) (Available only in German)