GFF is supporting peace activist Hermann Theisen in his defense against criminal prosecution
The peace activist Hermann Theisen appealed to employees of weapons manufacturers to act as whistleblowers. Although Theisen’s appeals were aimed solely at uncovering illegal corporate practices, he was prosecuted and convicted of publicly provoking the commission of criminal acts. The GFF is supporting Hermann Theisen in his appeals requesting that the superior courts revise the judgments previously handed down against him. Our goal is for the courts to recognize and clearly state that whistleblowing and appeals to others to engage in whistleblowing are acts of civil courage, not criminal offenses.
Hermann Theisen is engaged in combating illegal arms exports. To this end, among other activities, he distributes leaflets denouncing illegal exports by arms dealers and companies, chiefly while standing in front of the company’s premises. In his current leaflets, he calls on the employees of Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann to publish information on the illegal conduct of their employers.
Hermann Theisen opened himself to criminal liability simply by engaging in and encouraging others to engage in legitimate whistleblowing activities. In 2018, he was convicted and given fines by the local courts of Munich, Celle and Cloppenburg. The courts judged his calls for whistleblowing to be public appeals to others to commit a criminal offence, namely, the unauthorized disclosure of confidential business and trade secrets of the companies concerned. By doing so Hermann Theisen made himself liable to prosecution.
Courts failed to properly recognize and uphold Hermann Theisen’s right to freedom of opinion
The court decisions convicting Hermann Theisen are legally untenable. In interpreting Theisen’s leaflets, the courts failed to take sufficient account of the guarantee of freedom of expression found in Article 5 (1) sentence 1 of Germany’s Basic Law. The leaflets are an expression of Hermann Theisen’s political conviction. Freedom of expression encompasses sharply worded and provocative expressions of opinion. Theisen’s leaflets are meant to encourage reflection and discussion and were not distributed publicly, but rather were directed specifically to employees of the companies concerned.
Even if one regards the leaflets as a direct public appeal, however, Theisen’s actions cannot under any valid legal interpretation be viewed as calling for the commission of a crime. For the detection of illegal commercial practices is in the public interest and is not punishable by law. Far from committing criminal offences, employees who disclose illegal behavior by their employers are helping to uncover criminal offences.
Whistleblowing is criminalized
The convictions of Hermann Theisen will have a deterrent effect on potential whistleblowers. For if calls for whistleblowing result in the imposition of fines, a potential whistleblower will further be deterred from going public with their knowledge. Instead of recognizing the important role whistleblowing plays in supporting freedom of the press and contributing to an informed citizenry, the courts have criminalized whistleblowing.
GFF is supporting Hermann Theisen in pursuing his appeals to correct these seriously flawed court precedents. Whistleblowers not only lack adequate legal protection in Germany, they also face intimidation from the state in the form of potential criminal prosecution. We want to change this state of affairs by supporting Hermann Theisen through the appeals process until all judgments against him have been quashed. On January 16, 2019, the Munich Regional Court acquitted Hermann Theisen, as did the Lüneburg Regional Court on May 3, 2019. Theisen has also appealed the judgment of the Cloppenburg Local Court.
- You can read the grounds for Hermann Theisen’s appeal here (in German only).
You can find our current press release here (in German only).