Germany reinforces EU ban on flags of terror groups PKK and Hamas

Legislation passed in the lower chamber of the German Parliament has outlawed the symbols of groups designated as ‘terrorist organisations’ by the European Union. The ban applies to groups such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and militant Palestinian movement Hamas.

The new law, approved in the Bundestag on Friday, 25 June, now heads to the upper chamber, or Bundesrat, for ratification.

Germany already has strict rules in place against proscribed groups. The country first outlawed the PKK in 1993, and in March 2017 banned the flags of the PKK and its affiliates, including the YPG (People’s Protection Units) due to the acts of violence carried out not only abroad but also in Germany, which is home to over 3 million people originating from Turkey.

The 2017 ban generated a fiery debate, with Sevim Dağdelen, a left-wing MP of Kurdish descent, provocatively flying the YPG flag in the German Parliament. Her actions prompted a swift rebuke from Sigmar Gabriel, then Germany’s Foreign Minister, who said:

“The PKK is banned in this country because it used coercive methods, was involved in drug trafficking and human trafficking here.”

Under the new law these Kurdish protestors in Berlin would not be able to fly the PKK red star flag

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Under the PKK banner, Kurdish guerrillas have waged a bloody war against the Turkish state since the 1980s, costing the lives of over 40,000 people.

The Syrian conflict has seen the rise of a parallel terror group, the PYD and its military YPG wing, which Turkey claim are the Syrian branches of the PKK.

The PKK has a strong support base across Europe, including an estimated 14,000 followers in Germany.

Ankara has long demanded stricter measures against PKK propaganda, recruitment and its fundraising activities.

Hamas on EU terror list since 2001

Hamas has been on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations since December 2001, when the Council of the European Union – representing the governments of member states – adopted a regulation to combat terrorism. Its list of proscribed groups included Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades. Two years later, the Council added its political wing.

The decision was challenged by Hamas, which won Parliamentary elections in Gaza in 2006, in 2010, and four years later the Council’s decision was annulled by the EU’s General Court. That decision was appealed and subsequently overturned by the Council in 2015, and Hamas remains on the EU’s terror list.

The latest push for legislative restrictions comes as a result of the rise in hate crimes due to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Rise of anti-Semitism prompts new legislation

Several pro-Palestinian rallies in Germany in May during the 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza resulted in visible support for Hamas, as well as outbreaks of violence and anti-Semitic hatred. These ranged from anti-Jewish chants to vandalising a synagogue, and “a torrent of the most vile anti-Semitic insults”, said Germany’s Central Council of Jews last month.

The racist actions led to calls for the prohibition of not just terror groups, but any symbols associated with them.

The new German law makes it a crime to fly the PKK flag – a red star in a yellow circle with a green border and red background – and the Hamas flag – Arabic text of the Shahada (Muslim oath or declaration of the belief in the oneness of God and in Muhammad as his final Prophet) on a green background.

Thorsten Frei, a lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told Die Welt newspaper last week that the German government wanted to ban the Hamas flag in response to the demonstrations.

“We do not want the flags of terrorist organisations to be waved on German soil,” he said, adding that a ban would send “a clear signal to our Jewish citizens”.