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Russia makes first convictions for ‘LGBT extremism’ following ban

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Two Russian courts have meted out the first convictions in connection with what the government calls the “international LGBT social movement” and which was designated as extremist last year.

On Thursday, a court in the southern region of Volgograd found a man guilty of “displaying the symbols of an extremist organization” after he posted a photograph of an LGBTQ flag online, according to the court’s press service.

Artyom P., who was ordered to pay a fine of 1,000 rubles, admitted guilt and repented, saying he had posted the image “out of stupidity,” the court said.

On Monday, a court in Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow, sentenced to five days in administrative detention a woman who had been in a cafe when a man approached her and demanded she remove her frog-shaped earrings displaying an image of a rainbow, said Aegis, an LGBTQ rights group.

The woman was called to the police station after the man, who filmed the encounter, posted it online.

A trial is set to resume next week in Saratov in southwestern Russian against a photographer who posted images of rainbow flags on Instagram, independent Russian news outlet Mediazona reported.

The rainbow flag represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. Russian law prohibits anyone in the country “displaying the symbols” of organizations it considers extremist, a list that includes social network Meta.

Russia’s Supreme Court banned the “LGBT movement” last November, continuing a pattern of increasing restrictions in Russia on expressions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

A law passed last July outlawed legal or medical changes of gender for transgender Russians, and a law banning the promotion of “nontraditional” sexual relations has been on the books for over a decade.


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German domestic spy agency has its former head, now a hard-right politician, under scrutiny

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has put its former head, who has become a hard-right politician since being removed from the job several years ago, under scrutiny.

Hans-Georg Maassen posted a letter from the BfV agency to his lawyer on his website Wednesday after public broadcaster ARD and media outlet t-online reported that the authority he led from 2012 to 2018 now has him in its files on right-wing extremism.

The letter, dated Jan. 16, listed information that the BfV has him in its files. The agency refused to comment on the report and the letter, saying that it doesn’t comment on individuals because of their rights, German news agency dpa reported.

Maassen was removed as the head of the BfV in 2018 after appearing to downplay far-right violence against migrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz. He became a vocal if marginal figure on the hard right of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, the party once led by former Chancellor Angela Merkel, and ran unsuccessfully for election to the national parliament in 2021.

CDU leaders last year launched an effort to expel Maassen, following a tweet in which he said that the direction of “the driving forces in the political and media sphere” was “eliminatory racism against whites and the burning desire for Germany to kick the bucket.”

In recent weeks, Maassen has set in motion plans to turn an arch-conservative group he leads, the WerteUnion, into a new political party. On Saturday, he tweeted a letter announcing that he was leaving the CDU, currently Germany’s main opposition party, which he asserted is now “a variant of the socialist parties and not an alternative to them.”

On Wednesday, Maassen wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the government “is clearly afraid” of him and his prospective new party, and said the letter sent to his lawyer “contains no substantiated evidence that justifies observation.”


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Former German spy chief investigated for rightwing extremism

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Germany’s former head of domestic intelligence is under investigation as a suspected rightwing extremist — by the agency he once led.

Hans-Georg Maassen has been designated an “observation case” by Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), correspondence between the agency and Maassen’s lawyer has revealed.

Maassen, who entered politics after being forced out as president of the BfV in 2018 in a scandal over his perceived softness on rightwing extremism, published the 20-page letter on his website.

The BfV said that because of personal rights protections, it could not comment on individual cases.

The probe was first reported by Tagesschau, a news programme on public service broadcaster ARD.

Under its current chief, Thomas Haldenwang, the BfV classes rightwing extremism in Germany as the single greatest domestic threat to the country’s way of life. The agency, the equivalent of Britain’s MI5, or the FBI in the USA, is tasked with identifying threats to the German democratic order.

The agency is now investigating three state branches of the far-right Alternative for Germany party for extremism amid burgeoning support for radical politics. Just over one in five Germans say they will vote for the party, according to polls.

During his tenure at the BfV, Maassen refused to place the AfD under surveillance and drew criticism for appearing to play down the threat posed by rightwing extremism.

He has become an increasingly vocal anti-immigration figure. Last week the 61-year-old resigned his membership of the mainstream conservative Christian Democratic Union in order to concentrate on building his own political movement, the Values Union.

In its letter to Maassen’s lawyer, the BfV outlined how numerous figures on the extremist scene appeared to respect and praise him. The document also cites Maassen’s apparent sympathy for the Reichsbürger movement, whose attempt to mount a coup d’état in Berlin was thwarted by the BfV in late 2022.

Maassen did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement given to a sympathetic right-wing blog, the former spy chief said the BfV’s investigation against him was “insubstantial and unjustified” and amounted to “an attack on the free democratic order”.

The CDU had been trying to expel Maassen for nearly a year, accusing him of trafficking in conspiracy theories and antisemitic tropes.

Maassen raised eyebrows in November — and drew praise from extremist bloggers — for saying in an interview with a Swiss newspaper that Germany needed “chemotherapy” to treat the “cancer” of too many immigrants.

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Maassen was also praised at a controversial meeting at a villa in Potsdam last November between figures on the rightwing fringe and the Austrian ethno-nationalist ideologue Martin Sellner. Discussions at the meeting about the mass deportation of immigrants, which came to light last month, have scandalised Germany’s political leaders and drawn hundreds of thousands of Germans on to the streets in protest over the past fortnight.

In the state of Thuringia, they also fuelled a backlash against the AfD, which lost a regional administrative election it had been comfortably expected to win.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan


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Yair Lapid willing to join Netanyahu’s government, replace Ben-Gvir

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The opposition party Yesh Atid would be willing to join the government in order to save the 136 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza if the far-right parties Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionist Party leave the government in opposition of a deal, opposition leader and Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid said in an interview on Channel 12 on Tuesday.

The Likud accused Lapid of “pushing for an immediate end to the war without achieving total victory” in a Wednesday evening statement.

“We will not agree to that.”

אני לא מוכן שבגלל פוליטיקה לא ישחררו את החטופים. pic.twitter.com/NqysRTkHZK

— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) January 31, 2024

Yesh Atid responded, “Former prime minister Lapid is pushing for saving the hostages and bringing them home, and not to save Netanyahu and his extremist partners. The Likud, true to its habit, is confused – total victory means returning the hostages after a historic failure, not to stay in power and cling to one’s seat.”

Ben-Gvir had threatened to leave the government if the proposal for the hostage deal and ceasefire in Gaza, which he called “negligent,” would go ahead.

Both National Unity and Otzma Yehudit threatened to leave the emergency government over a possible hostage deal for the release of Israelis being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

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“A reckless deal equals dismantling the government,” Ben-Gvir wrote on X.

Lapid keen to serve as ‘safety net’ for Gaza hostage deal

Opposition leader and Yesh Atid Chairman MK Yair Lapid said soon after that his party would serve as a “safety net for any deal that will return the hostages to their homes.”

“Yesh Atid will not allow Netanyahu’s political problems to block a hostage deal that would bring them home,” the party wrote on X soon after. “Lapid said from day one that it would back any deal, and it will continue to do so. They must be returned home.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Lapid expressed the urgency for reaching a deal: “The first clause, the first line, in the contract between the state and its citizens, says that the state is responsible for their lives; not only for their health or the education of their children but for life in the most basic and simplest sense.”

“We have no way to bring our dead back to life, but we have to bring the hostages home, otherwise something very basic will crumble in our relationship with each other, in the relationship between a people and their country,” he continued, “certainly, in the fundamental trust between the citizens and the government. This must not happen. Some things are not up for debate.”

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.


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Yair Lapid willing to join Netanyahu’s government, replace Ben-Gvir – The Jerusalem Post

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Yair Lapid willing to join Netanyahu’s government, replace Ben-Gvir  The Jerusalem Post

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Netanyahu insists on ‘absolute victory’ over Hamas amid cease-fire talks – The Hill

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Netanyahu insists on ‘absolute victory’ over Hamas amid cease-fire talks  The Hill

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