BERLIN, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- German justice minister Katarina Barley (SPD) has called for an investigation into alleged links between the Saxony state criminal police office and the anti-immigrant Pegida movement on Thursday.
"Recent events in Saxony are truly concerning and must be urgently and thoroughly investigated by local authorities," Barley told the German press agency (dpa).
The minister's comments were made in response to reports that press representatives were harassed by police and prevented from going about their work at a Pegida demonstration in the Saxon capital of Dresden.
Pegida stands for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident" in German. The group was founded in 2014 and regularly organizes large rallies to protest what it views as a threat posed by Islam and multiculturalism more generally to Western society.
During the latest demonstration of the group, a protestor, who was later identified as a member of the state criminal police office, hurled verbal abuse at a team of "ZDF" journalists filming the gathering. Rather than reigning in the aggressive Pegida supporter, police proceeded to inspect and temporarily detain the "ZDF" team over the course of just under an hour.
As a consequence, the public broadcaster is now accusing Saxon police officers of undermining the constitutionally-guaranteed right of the freedom of press in Germany. According to the magazine "SPIEGEL", a corresponding lawsuit has already been filed with the Saxony state prosecution office against the regional police force.
Barley emphasized on Thursday that press freedom was a "critical principle of our society and constitution" in Germany. The Saxon state assembly has announced that it will question regional interior minister Roland Woeller (CDU) on the issue in the course of the day.
Woeller's ministry confirmed earlier that the Pegida supporter who became embroiled in a row with "ZDF" reporters is an employee of the state criminal police office. "The state criminal police office will arrive at a decision about possible consequences when the case has been investigated and the affected individual has provided a testimony", a statement released online read.
Thomas Geither, the spokesperson for the Dresden police, has rejected claims that his organization interfered with the freedom of press at the Pegida demonstration. He admitted, however, that there were members of his police force who sympathized with the anti-immigrant group.