German police are investigating a death threat against a state premier in the latest alarming episode linked to protests against Covid-19 restrictions.
A message calling for Manuela Schwesig to be detained or killed was posted in a Telegram group used by self-described sceptics in her home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.
“She will be taken away – either by patrol car, by ambulance in a straitjacket, or by hearse,” the message said. “One way or another she will be taken away.”
It came weeks after a separate protest in which demonstrators marched outside Ms Schwesig’s house to object to virus restrictions.
Christian Pegel, the state’s interior minister, said state police were investigating online threats, which he described as having crossed a line.
“We have reached a level of discussion that isn’t acceptable, that tries to force people’s positions through with threats,” he told local television.
“In a democratic society, that’s a red line you can’t cross, and anyone who does cross it has to expect society to respond accordingly.”
It is the latest threat from the anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine protest scene to concern authorities, after a serving soldier was arrested over a Telegram video last month and extreme-right groups were accused of infiltrating protests.
Another state leader, Michael Kretschmer, was the subject of alleged death threats which led to police seizing crossbows from suspects. Like Ms Schwesig, he governs a state in the former East where vaccine scepticism is highest.
Ms Schwesig, who was re-elected in September, said she was grateful for the protection she received from security services.
“Violence is not a method,” she said.
Germany tightened restrictions last month to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, with private gatherings limited to 10 people. Unvaccinated people are largely excluded from venues such as restaurants and cinemas.
Ms Schwesig’s government went further still by closing some venues altogether and requiring a negative test even from vaccinated people.
Tougher nationwide curbs could be on the table when Germany’s 16 state premiers hold talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday.
Although infection numbers are low compared to other European countries such as Britain and France, ministers expect cases to rise in the coming weeks.
“A tightening will unfortunately be necessary to face the serious wave that is coming our way,” said Health Minister Karl Lauterbach.
He did not give details on how restrictions could be toughened, but said unvaccinated people could not expect limits on their freedoms to be lifted “in the short or medium term”.
About 71 per cent of Germany’s population is fully vaccinated, with 40 per cent having received a booster shot.