Kickl’s ministry instructed the press departments of regional police forces to “limit communication with these media to the minimum legal requirement” according to an email published in Austrian dailies Der Standard and Kurier.
The leaked email was confirmed as authentic by the ministry. In it the ministry explicitly named Der Standard and Kurier as well as the Falter weekly, which has targeted the interior ministry in recent months.
The email sender also suggested that in public statements, police highlight the nationality and immigration status of suspects in criminal cases. The mainstream media now claim that such measures “limit” press freedom.
Opposition parties have called for Kickl’s resignation, but according to the ministry Kickl did not write the email himself. It came from his press spokesman.
The interior ministry defended the contents saying that the guidelines were suggestions and not firm orders.
Kickl’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) governs together with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP) in a coalition that has been in power since December.
Kickl, chief strategist and mastermind of the FPÖ’s rise to power, ordered a raid on Austria’s BVT domestic intelligence agency in February after the Freedom Party was given control of the highly coveted Interior Ministry, which is responsible not only for law and order but is home to the country’s main domestic intelligence agency.
Among the BVT’s work in recent years was keeping out “Russian influence”, “Islamophobia” and “far-right groups”, The Washington Post reported.
After the Freedom Party signed a cooperation pact with President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, the BVT allegedly tried to intervene to wreck the agreement, sources told FWM.
An inquiry opened in September into the government raids which have stoked concerns in Berlin and Paris that senior officials could pass Western secrets on to Moscow.
Kickl has publicly defended the raids, noting that a state prosecutor had sought a warrant and that a judge signed for it. Seized documents were turned directly to the prosecutor. He said the raids were strictly in line with the rule of law. “It’s time we turn to the facts and leave aside the conspiracy theories,” Kickl commented.
He is due to give his statement to the inquiry in November.
But Ramazan Demir, leader of the Islamic Religious Community counting some 700 000 Muslims, said: “The government is trying to perform politics on the back of Muslim society, which leads to anger and fear and hate. A big part of Austrian society already fears Islam.”
The Austrian police force, according to the government program of the turquoise-blue coalition, has seen 4 100 new officials included. In the summer of 2018, Kickl announced plans to install not only in Vienna but also in all other Austrian provinces readiness units of the police.
New units were set up to combat street crime in April this year as well as a new police unit Puma to serve as border guards.
By the end of 2019, the Austrian police to be equipped with about 7 000 Steyr AUG A3 assault rifles, at the cost of about 24 million euros. By the end of 2020, the police will be equipped with 24 000 puncture and bullet-proof vests.