Guilty by Association The Suspected Terrorist Dr. Andrej Holm

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The Suspect

German academic Dr. Andrej Holm is the father of three children and lives in Berlin. He is a sociologist interested in the power relations of gentrification and urban renewal and is a critic of German government policies. He is also a suspected terrorist and under arrest in solitary confinement.

The Arrest

On July 31st 2007 the home of German academic Dr. Andrej Holm was searched by the German Federal Police. He was then arrested and flown by helicopter to the German Federal Court in Karlsruhe and brought before the custodial judge. This father of three children has been held in the Berlin-Moabit awaiting trial. He was charged with “membership in a terrorist association according to  129a StGB” (German Penal Code, section 7 on "Crimes against Public Order"). He and three other people were charged with belonging to a "militant gruppe"/"mg" which is a militant group or terrorist organization. Several other academics also had their homes searched, and all had been under surveillance since September 2006.

Several hours before the academics had their homes searched, Florian L., Oliver R. und Axel H. were arrested in the Brandenburg region around Berlin and accused of attempted arson of four German Federal Army vehicles. These three are suspected of other acts of arson.

The four are detained in solitary confinement:

“Andrej H., as well as Florian L., Oliver R. und Axel H., are detained since 1st August 2007 in Berlin-Moabit under very strict conditions: they are locked in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and are allowed only one hour of courtyard walk. Visits are limited to a total of half an hour every two weeks. Contacts, including contacts with lawyers, are allowed only through separation panes, including contact with their lawyers. The mail of the defense is checked.”

The Allegations

The Federal Prosecutor (Bundesanwaltschaft) is investigating all seven, as they are suspected of “membership in a terrorist association” according to 129a StGB.

Of the academics, only Dr. Andrej Holm was arrested. According to his supporters, he is alleged to have met one of these three suspected arsonists on two occasions in the first half of 2007 in supposedly “conspiratorial circumstances.” According to the German Government – “This [arrest as a suspected terror group member] is the result of among other things the fact of comprehensive conspiratorial contacts and meetings in particular with the accused of Florian L.” “Dies ergibt sich unter anderem aus der Tatsache umfassender konspirativer Kontakte und Treffen insbesondere mit dem Beschuldigten Florian L.” The German Federal Prosecutors do not want to hinder an ongoing investigation so they have made no more information available.

Note that Dr. Andrej Holm, according to the German Government Web Site, is arrested only for suspected membership due to meeting with only one of the accused. How dangerous is this group? The primary suspected activity of this group is arson of vehicles — most recently government vehicles. He was not arrested for doing or planning anything. This is an admission that he is only guilty by association.

Why He's Guilty

The only information anyone has explaining the reasons for Dr. Andrej Holm's suspected membership in a terrorist organization is the warrant.

According to US Professor Peter Marcuse

The prosecutor's files include some 200 folders with approximately 80,000 pages, presumably including many of the publications of the four academics. The details aren't yet clear, because the prosecutor's office is short-staffed and hasn't had time to Xerox the contents for the defendant's lawyers. According to Indymedia, “a substantial part of the documents consists of analyses of… comparisons of formulations and punctuation of texts [of the defendants with the writings of the mg.] Is the word “imperialism” used, is G8 written G-8 or G8, is the IWF [IMF] referred to.” And, frequently, “gentrification.”

According to the text of the warrant, Dr. Andrej Holm and the alleged arsonists are suspected of using similar keywords and phrases in their writings. That is how they know he's a member in the group — as well as meeting one member a couple of times. It is suspected that Dr. Andrej Holm is contributing to texts created by the alleged arsonists. Everyone's favorite example is the word gentrification, which is on only 2,400,000 web pages and is a common English term for anyone discussing urban social or real estate trends.

As political scientist holding a PhD, Matthias B. is seen to be intellectually capable to “author the sophisticated texts of the u2018militante gruppe' (mg)”. Additionally, “as employee in a research institute he has access to libraries which he can use inconspicuously in order to do the research necessary to the drafting of texts of the u2018militante gruppe'”

Apparently the alleged arsonists are not qualified to write their own texts, and a suitably qualified academic had to be found. One wonders if the alleged arsonists could not be charged with writing texts without a license.

They also appear to associate Dr. Andrej Holm with G-8 protestors. When the G-8 summit was in Rostock Germany in 2007 the 16,000 German police faced 25,000 to 80,000 protesters. There were multiple incidents of violence by both sides. Total number of injuries is unclear, but was probably hundreds on each side. It is probable the police view anyone associated with the protestors as probable terrorists.

I have no indication that Dr. Andrej Holm advocated any sort of violence. Sociologist Rainer Rilling says

His political and academic publications, most of which I am familiar with, neither call for damage to property — even though most critical urban sociologist might have a hard time suppressing such desires — nor for violent assaults on persons, let alone for terrorist attacks. He also never tried to justify them. The whole affair stinks to high heaven.

Academic Terrorist or Terrorized Academic?

This appears to be a case of guilt by association. Dr. Andrej Holm is not an advocate of violence. He is not accused of planning or committing any acts of violence. He is accused of membership in a terrorist group – that is to say association with suspected terrorists. Even this is tenuous as he appears to have only met one member a few times, and the crux of the association is the similarity between the group’s writing and his. This assumes that the terms and phrases aren't common jargon, and the group couldn't have liked his writing and plagiarized or borrowed heavily.

This is quite disturbing. Apparently in Germany one can meet a couple times with someone one shares some common interests with but doesn't really know and doesn't necessarily agree with on all issues, and one can become a suspected member of any organization the new acquaintance belongs to. Just because two people agree on problems in society doesn't mean that both agree that violence and terrorism are the answer. This is an ominous attack on free speech and freedom of association.

Hopefully there will be enough international outrage to force the prosecutors to release Dr. Andrej Holm or come up with real charges. It is unfortunate that civilized countries like Germany or the US continue to violate the people's rights. It is extremely worrisome to imagine that this trend of criminalizing our right to free association and free speech might continue to expand to include more and more people.

Further Reading

August 23, 2007