Do or Die

An article from Do or Die Issue 9. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 57-58.


Whilst political repression in Germany is of course not confined to anti-terrorism laws, Section 129a is a key instrument used in the harsh repression of radical groups. Passed in 1976 as a response to the various armed groups active at that time - the Red Army Faction (RAF), the 2nd of June Movement and the Revolutionary Cells (RZ) among others, the parliamentary debates around its introduction already showed that it was directed against all radical movements: a conservative MP thus demanded an end to the "poisonous class struggle propaganda at our schools and universities". 129a deals with the formation of terrorist organisations and defines 'terrorism' broadly enough to include what would here normally be classed as criminal damage. It also deals with those "canvassing support" for 'terrorist' groups - an extremely vague concept that has ever since perfectly suited the intention of potentially criminalising all radical opposition. In legal terms, it is crucial that through the concept of membership of a terrorist organisation, individuals can be held responsible for violations of the law they have not personally committed. This had devastating consequences, especially in a number of trials against supposed members of the RAF. Legal details based on 129a also substantially worsened procedures in court and the treatment of militants in prison.

The remit of 129a was always very wide and extended to include large sections of the radical left - so much so that even state security experts criticised it for lumping together completely different sorts of political groups with the effect of welding together 'proper terrorists' and rather harmless activists! In its 25 years of existence, thousands and thousands of investigations were started under 129a against a wide range of social movements: squatters, anti-fascists, anti-militarists, those fighting nuclear power stations and so on. A large number of investigations were related to solidarity activities for imprisoned militants from the RAF and the anti-imperialist resistance. Organising a public discussion on their prison conditions, printing hunger strike communiqués or demanding they be granted the status of political prisoners all became the crime of "supporting terrorism". In fact, of the 3,000 investigations from 1980-88, almost 90% referred to support, not membership, of a terrorist organisation. This sometimes took on comical, though serious, dimensions: making a demand that was also advanced by a 'terrorist' group was sufficient to be found guilty of supporting 'terrorism'. The conditions of public political discussion were substantially affected by the almost permanent legal hassle the radical press faced when dealing with militant actions, prison, hunger strikes and so on. Only 3% of all investigations in the 1990s led to convictions - in other words, 129a was simply used to get a better picture of political scenes and intimidate them by tapping phones, raiding flats and offices or social centres. Not surprisingly, the demise of armed struggle in the early 1990s never led to the abolition of 129a.

Resistance to criminalisation has consisted mainly of solidarity with those in prison, facing trial or being subject to investigation. The demand to scrap 129a is a long-standing one, made not only by radicals but also by liberal lawyers and civil rights groups. But precisely because 129a serves so well for the purposes of hassling people who have got nothing to do with 'terrorism', the state is not inclined to dispense with it. What is more, anti-terrorism legislation is currently being standardised throughout the European Union - the issue cannot be addressed any longer just on a national level.

Currently, the German state apparatus is hunting down supposed former members of the Revolutionary Cells. Whilst the bomb attacks in which the RZ activists allegedly participated took place so long ago that they cannot be prosecuted for them, the same thing does not apply to their alleged membership of the RZ, for which they can still be brought to trial 15 or 20 years later: 129a once again serves its purpose.

(See Prisoners of War section for more information on this case.)

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