A German government spokesperson on Friday rejected the notion that comments by Chancellor Olaf Scholz criticizing climate activists might have prompted raids against them this week.
Police on Wednesday searched more than a dozen properties across Germany linked to the group Last Generation, seizing assets as part of a probe into its finances. Prosecutors in Munich said they are investigating whether the group constitutes a criminal organization after its repeated road blockades and other protests drew numerous complaints from the public.
Days before the raids, Scholz said he thought it was "completely nutty to somehow stick yourself to a painting or on the street."
Members of Last Generation have hit back, describing the raids as a blow to democracy and accusing Scholz of belittling young people's fears about global warming.
Scholz's spokesperson, Wolfgang Buechner, said he didn't know whether the chancellor had advance knowledge of the raids but that it would be unusual if that were the case.
Asked whether prosecutors in Bavaria could have taken Scholz's comments as a signal to crack down on the group, Buechner strongly rejected the idea.
"It has to be possible for the German chancellor to answer a question about what he thinks of the protests in a plain-spoken way," he said. "I think the chancellor did this in an appropriate way."
Buechner said the German government remains committed to tackling climate change and protesters must abide by the law.
A United Nations spokesperson said Thursday that while governments have a duty to uphold the law, "people also have a fundamental right to demonstrate peacefully to have their voices heard."
"And it is clear that a lot of the progress that we have seen on awareness on climate change and positive movement on climate change is due to the fact that people have been demonstrating peacefully throughout the world," Stéphane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
"Climate advocates – led by the moral voice of young people – have kept the agenda moving through the darkest of days. They must be protected, and we need them now more than ever," he told German news agency dpa.
Last Generation and other groups have said they plan further protests in Germany over the coming days.