A regional court in Berlin, Germany, is seen on March 26, 2019. A BuzzFeed Germany story has been held offline since September following a court injunction. (Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

German injunction against BuzzFeed story in place since September due to COVID-19

On September 18, 2019, the Berlin Regional Court issued a temporary injunction ordering BuzzFeed Germany, the local branch of the U.S. media outlet, to remove two articles from its website, according to news reports from the time.

Due to the country’s lockdown to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court has not held any hearings on the case and has not scheduled any for the future, forcing the outlet to keep its reporting offline indefinitely, according to Juliane Löffler, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed Germany who co-authored the articles in question, and who spoke to CPJ via phone and email.

The articles, by BuzzFeed Germany in collaboration with Vice Germany, and written by Löffler and Vice reporter Thomas Vorreyer, were published on September 6, and were publicly available on BuzzFeed Germany’s website until the injunction was filed, according to the article pages, which now state that the content has been taken down pending a legal dispute.

Löffler told CPJ that a hearing in the appellate court scheduled for early 2020 was postponed due to COVID-19, with no new date scheduled.

The articles contained allegations that a Berlin HIV specialist had sexually abused patients in his practice, according to the news reports from the time. The injunction stated that the articles should be kept offline until a criminal case against the doctor was resolved, but that case has also been postponed with no date set, BuzzFeed reported

CPJ emailed the doctor’s legal representative for comment, but did not receive any reply.

In its injunction, the court said that although the doctor was only referred to by his first name and the first letter of his last name, and that there was considerable public interest in publishing the allegations, the manner of the reporting was “prejudicial,” according to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The doctor filed a civil defamation complaint that sparked the injunction, according to that report.

Löffler told CPJ that she stands by the reporting, which she said was substantiated with documents and testimonies of alleged victims, some of whom signed affidavits in the criminal proceedings against the doctor.

A representative from the Berlin Regional Court’s press office told CPJ in a phone call on June 24 that the case was still pending, and confirmed that no date had been set for any upcoming hearings.