Germany's far-right AfD seeking to overturn extremist designation in court

Right wing Alternative for Germany campaigns in Berlin

By Thomas Escritt

MUENSTER, Germany (Reuters) -The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on Tuesday attempted to delay a court hearing on whether it can be treated as a suspected extremist organisation, accusing judges of bias and seeking to summon a raft of top officials as witnesses.

The AfD brought the case after the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), one of Germany's security agencies, made the classification in 2021, meaning it could deploy intelligence tools such as phone taps and informants against the party.

A ruling in favour of the BfV would allow that to continue and would deal the party a blow just six months ahead of regional and European elections.

The party polls in first place in several of the poorer, post-industrial eastern states where its anti-establishment, anti-immigration message is particularly resonant.

The AfD, which has 78 of the 735 seats in the Bundestag federal parliament, says it is a democratic, non-extremist formation. Regional branches of the party have already been formally declared extremist threats.

In a series of lengthy submissions on Tuesday, the AfD's lawyer Christian Conrad asked to summon much of the BfV's top leadership, saying they could shed light on the existence of a BfV report on the party - one the BfV said is not yet complete.

A lawyer for the BfV accused the AfD of "dragging out" the hearing with repeated submissions.

Presiding judge Gerald Buck rejected the party's request for more time to digest thousands of pages of evidence, prompting Conrad to request the dismissal of the entire panel of judges.

Buck labelled that demand a frivolous abuse of plaintiff rights, but the accusations of bias are likely to be popular with supporters of a party that casts itself as an outsider fighting for the common man against the establishment.

There has yet to be a decision on whether the BfV witnesses will be called to appear.

The party has faced mounting pressure after the disclosure that senior figures had attended a meeting where the "remigration" of "unintegrated" citizens was discussed - widely seen as code for the expulsion of people of non-ethnic-German descent.

The meeting prompted street protests and statements of concern from titans of German corporate life, which are normally reticent on matters of daily politics.

Highlighting the increased focus on the party, broadcaster BR on Tuesday reported that the party's legislators between them employed more than 100 people with extremist links, an assertion the AfD rejected.

The court in Muenster, in whose jurisdiction the BfV's headquarters in Cologne lies, is expected to issue a definitive ruling on the facts after two days of hearings.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Lucy Marks and Alison Williams)