'United Stasi of America': Light Artist Wanted by Berlin Police
Berlin police are investigating a light artist for projecting the phrase "United Stasi of America" onto the the US Embassy in Berlin. The phrase refers to the former East German secret police and was meant as a protest against American spying. But can the artist really be prosecuted?
It was meant to be a publicity stunt -- a political prank aimed at voicing displeasure over vast US Internet surveillance and spying activities. But Oliver Bienkowski, the light artist who projected the words "United Stasi of America" onto the US Embassy late Sunday night now finds himself in hot water with the Berlin police after authorities opened an investigation.
The projection, which included an image of Internet activist and hacker icon Kim Schmitz, aka "Kim Dotcom," took place at around 1 a.m. local time on Sunday night and lasted for a mere 30 seconds before police guarding the embassy asked him to move on. "Stasi" is a reference to the infamous East German Ministry for State Security, which managed a vast network of spies and informants in communist times -- but which also persecuted the state's political opponents.
Bienkowski told SPIEGEL ONLINE that his goal was to "do things that people will see and try to get them to think." Specifically, he wanted to voice criticism of US web surveillance, the vast scope of which was revealed recently by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Bienkowski says he even spent 5,000 ($6,500) out of his own pocket to finance the costs of the guerilla light projection.
Mostly, though, Bienkowski's lawyer makes clear that the projection on Sunday night should be protected by the right to free speech. "By making use of the artistic form of satire, which has always been characterized by exaggeration and hyperbole, Bienkowski was protesting in a legitimate manner the massive degradation of civil rights, particularly via the recently revealed attacks on the private spheres of (not just) German civilians through intercontinental surveillance measures," the lawyer's statement reads.
Bienkowski, for his part, seems unconcerned as well, telling SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday that it is a cut-and-dry case of freedom of expression. He also seems to harbor little animosity toward the Berlin police themselves -- even if they forced him to turn off his projector just seconds into his protest. "They were very friendly," he says.
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