BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's domestic spy agency is not allowed to classify the Alternative for Germany (AfD) as a "case to investigate", a court ruled on Tuesday, handing a victory to the far-right party which had brought the case.
The move represents a blow to Germany's BfV intelligence agency whose chief had in January announced it would investigate the AfD to see whether the anti-immigrant party's politics breached constitutional safeguards against extremism.
Thomas Haldenwang had said the agency had classified Germany's main opposition party as a "case to investigate" but its probe would fall short of full-blown surveillance.
However, the administrative court in Cologne said on Tuesday there were no legal grounds to say that a party was a "case to investigate". The court added that an evaluation of the AfD's policies and views were not relevant to the case.
"The description as a 'case to investigate' gives a negative public impression," said the court in a statement. It added that the move breached rules to protect political parties guaranteed in the constitution and was also disproportionate.
Germany's constitution contains strict protections against extremism but also sets out safeguards on political parties.
"The court in Cologne came to the conclusion that the public classification as a case to investigate was nothing other than stigmatising and damaging to one's reputation," the AfD said on Facebook.
The AfD also accused the BfV of discrediting rivals and pushing its own political views.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin)