In a win for 'Post' reporter, diplomat forced to remove Twitter block

“It is completely inappropriate of the foreign ministry and its official to block a journalist of a leading international newspaper from an official account," attorney Joachim Nikolaus Steinhöfel.

By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
February 27, 2019 21:05
3 minute read.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier poses after the recording of the traditional Christmas message at Bellevue Palace in Berlin. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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After The Jerusalem Post's Benjamin Weinthal reported on February 13, 2019 that German Deputy Foreign Minister Niels Annen celebrated Iran's 40th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, Annen blocked Weinthal from reading his Twitter messages, causing a prominent German attorney to file a successful legal claim against the diplomat to unblock his Twitter account for the journalist.

“It is completely inappropriate of the Foreign Ministry and its official to block a journalist of a leading international newspaper from an official account," the Hamburg-based attorney Joachim Nikolaus Steinhöfel told the Post on Wednesday.

"The ban amounts to an effort to suppress speech critical of the minister of state, his conduct of official duties or fitness for public office. The lawsuit we will file for Mr Weinthal will answer important questions about the constitutional restrictions that apply to social media accounts of government officials. For us, this act is tantamount to unconstitutionally suppressing dissent,” he said.

The Post's Weinthal reported on February 13 that "German foreign ministry celebrates Iran's Islamic revolution in Berlin."

Annen along with a second unnamed diplomat honored Iran's radical Islamic founding at the event and Annen later said he had "no regrets" about participating in the ceremony for a regime that urges the destruction of the Jewish state, the US, and spreads Holocaust denial and lethal antisemitism. Three days later, the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, pounded the German government for celebrating the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution in Berlin.

“No one should confuse the desire to have dialogue with a celebration marking 40 years of brutality,” Grenell told the Post. “This sends a troubling mixed message."

Steinhöfel's assertive legal action compelled Annen to unblock his account on February 18 or face a financial penalty. Steinhöfel, a freedom of press expert, continues to pursue a lawsuit against Annen for violating the rights of journalists and news organizations and to ensure access to Twitter accounts used by  German taxpayer-funded government officials in Germany.

According to a report on Friday by the German journalist Sabina Wolf on the website of Audiatur, the Foreign Ministry declined to specifically comment, stating merely that the ministry is happy about interest in foreign policy topics.

Wolf first reported on Weinthal's case and wrote that any notice of Annen's account being private is not mentioned. Annen's Twitter account states that he is a member of the German Bundstag for the election district of  Hamburg-Einsbüttel.Deputy foreign minister in the foreign ministry, Minister of State (@AuswärtigesAmt)."


Annen includes the German-language Twitter handle @AuswärtigesAmt of the foreign ministry in his Twitter biography.

Weinthal sought answers about being blocked several weeks ago. A spokeswoman named Laura-Louise Scheller declined to comment and the foreign ministry in Berlin referred Weinthal to the  Bundestag office of Annen, who is a member of the social democratic party.

According to Wolf's Audiatur article, a number of journalists have been blocked by diplomats from the German foreign ministry, including Germany's ambassador to Iran. Michael Klor Berchtold, because they voiced criticism of Germany's friendly policies toward Iran's clerical regime.

The US government classifies Iran's regime as the largest international state-sponsor of terrorism. Last week, the German newspaper Bild reported Germany's president Frank-Walter Steinemeier sent a congratulatory telegram to Iran's mullah regime for the 40th-year founding of its revolution and radical Shi'ite-controlled regime.

Steinhöfel told the Post that "For the record: A year ago, our law firm was the first to obtain a restraining order against Facebook for deleting legal content and blocking the user. The ruling was in the headlines of every major and minor media in Germany and got coverage overseas as well" in the BBC, Bloomberg and The Atlantic.

He said he represents the German-Egyptian Islam expert  Hamed Abdel-Samad against Facebook for deleting legal content and blocking. Abdel-Samad confronted Steinmeier at an event on Tuesday in Berlin about his courting of the mullah regime.

Abdel-Samad, who stands under constant police protection because of his criticisms of radical Islam, told Steinemeir: "Not in my name! You sent the wrong signals to the regime in Iran. And you sent the message in the name of the people in Germany that we do not take our own values ​​first." 

Steinmeier, a  social democrat and former foreign minister, doubled-down and defended his telegram of praise for the 40th anniversary of Iran's revolution.

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