Germany's top security and law officials have agreed to a plan to enact new computer surveillance regulations. But Muslim leaders fear imams could face more scrutiny than their Christian counterparts.
Top security and law officials in Germany this week established new guidelines on surveillance of computers in cases of terrorism or serious crimes.
The framework, which was designed by Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), allows federal security officials to monitor computers only in cases related to terrorism or other serious crimes.
The new framework complies with a legal ruling made by the country's highest court in February, and resolves a debate between conservatives and the SPD in Germany's ruling Grand Coalition government.
"No more decisive sticking points stand in our way," said Dieter Wiefelspütz, the domestic policy expert of the SPD.
But leaders from Germany's Muslim community say that the regulations could subject Muslim imams to surveillance from which Christian clergy are exempt.
Christian pastors and priests are guaranteed their continued privacy under the new regulations, which would govern the activities of the federal Criminal Investigation Office (BKA), Germany's equivalent of the FBI. Muslim imams, however, won't have the same privilege. The reason, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry told SPIEGEL ONLINE, is that imams do not belong to a state-recognized religious community.
The Catholic and Evangelical Churches in Germany have state-recognized status. Among other things, this means that Germans who belong to those churches pay a church tax and that the faiths are taught in many German schools. Islam does not currently hold that same official status in Germany.
"Not everyone who claims to be a religious figure is legally one," said Wiefelspütz.
'No Privileges for Islam'
Keeping imams outside the category of protected professions is not a maneuver designed to harass radical Islamic preachers, said Wiefelspütz. Rather, the absolute protection against surveillance only applies to persons that fall within specific legal boundaries. If an imam were to call a would-be suicide bomber to bestow a final blessing, he would be opening himself to potential criminal charges. A member of the Christian clergy, Wiefelpütz argued, could also come under surveillance for the same offence. "If there is concrete evidence that a pastor or priest is collaborating with terrorists in order to support their activities, then that can also be monitored," said Wiefelspütz.
The protection from surveillance afforded to Christian clergy is an "absolute exception" that one would need an airtight justification to overrule, Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy floor leader of Christian Democrats in the Bundestag, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Either you include every religious community and everyone that calls himself a religious leader, or you draw a legal distinction at religious communities with state recognition. But we can't make privileges for Islam."
Muslim leaders, meanwhile, feel that they have been deceived. The government's justification for keeping imams under surveillance is a "specious argument," said Aiman Mazyek, secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims, in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE.
In reality, said Mazyek, the regulation is a form of "state-sanctioned discrimination."
'Imams must be treated like Christian clergy'
Imams shouldn't need state recognition to receive the same protection, said Mazyek. Islam, he says, is already protected as a religious community by the constitution. But Mazyek sees a problem in the tightening of the surveillance guidelines: "The excuse is always that it has to do with Muslim extremists. But at the end of the day, the weight of the tighter regulations will fall on John Q. Public." Extremists, Mazyek argues, will always find a loophole.
Mazyek plans to lobby against the proposed regulations and to work to protect imams against potential monitoring.
The Muslim community in Germany is growing. And Muslim leaders in the German Islam Conference (DIK) are working to gain state recognition for Islam.
The guidelines released this week to govern the Criminal Investigation Office's surveillance powers are not final. The proposal needs to be considered by German state governments, approved by federal cabinet members, and ratified by both houses of parliament.
"We need to clarify these questions through the legislative process," said policy expert Wiefelspütz
Source: Spiegel (English)