Head of German anti-Islam group in court for hate speech
The founder of Germany’s xenophobic and anti-Islamic Pegida movement faced court Tuesday on hate speech charges for branding refugees “cattle” and “scum” on social media.
Lutz Bachmann, founder of the far-right “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident” movement, was charged in October with inciting racial hatred through a series of widely-shared Facebook posts.
The trial was held under tight security in Dresden in the former communist east, the birthplace of Pegida, which bitterly opposes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal migration policy that brought more than a million asylum seekers to Germany last year.
The court said the 43-year-old’s comments, which date back to 2014, also “disrupted public order” and constituted an “attack on the dignity” of refugees.
If found guilty, Bachmann could face between three months and five years in jail.
Bachmann, who has branded the process a “political show trial”, appeared smiling at the court, wearing a pair of glasses that mimicked the black bars printed over people’s eye in censored photos.
Several dozen supporters outside court waved signs that demanded “Acquittal for Lutz Bachmann” and putting “Merkel on trial”, as chanting counter demonstrators urged “Jail for Bachmann”.
The Pegida founder’s offending comments were published in September 2014, as the movement started life as a xenophobic Facebook group.
The group initially drew just a few hundred supporters to demonstrations in Dresden before gaining strength, peaking with rallies of up to 25,000 people in early 2015.
Interest subsequently began to wane following wide coverage of Bachmann’s overtly-racist comments and the surfacing of “selfies” in which he sported a Hitler-style moustache and hairstyle.
But the pendulum swung back a few months later, as tens of thousands of asylum-seekers — many fleeing war in mostly Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — poured into Germany each week.
Bachmann has repeatedly labelled the newcomers “criminal invaders” while also railing against “traitor” politicians and the “liar press”, whom he blames for jointly promoting multiculturalism.
At Pegida’s weekly rally in Dresden on Monday evening, Bachmann made no reference to his trial but hurled a barb at the row over a German TV comedian who wrote a satirical poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Popular comic Jan Boehmermann could be convicted under the rarely-enforced section 103 of the criminal code–insulting organs or representatives of foreign states.
“Imagine the outcry… if that poem had been written by me,” Bachmann told a crowd of several thousand.
“I would have been immediately arrested on stage, placed in custody… (and) executed,” he said sardonically.
A trained chef and head of a public relations agency, Bachmann has previously been convicted of drug, theft and assault charges.
In the late 1990s, he left Germany for South Africa to avoid a jail term, but was extradited two years later and served more than 12 months behind bars in Germany.
The eastern state of Saxony, of which Dresden is the capital, has been a hotspot for many of the 800 attacks on refugee shelters recorded in Germany last year.
Small towns such as Freital near Dresden earned nationwide notoriety last year as neo-Nazis and angry residents hurled abuse at people fleeing war and misery–and rocks at police sent to protect those seeking a safe haven.
An elite German police anti-terror unit carried out dawn raids Tuesday to capture five right-wing extremist suspects accused of attacking refugee shelters and political opponents, federal prosecutors said.
The suspects, four men and a woman, are accused of belonging to a far-right terrorist organization called the Freital Group.
“According to preliminary investigations, the aim of the group was to carry out explosives attacks on homes for asylum seekers as well as the homes of political opponents,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
It said the suspects stockpiled hundreds of fireworks from the Czech Republic to use in attacks. The assaults include using the fireworks to blow out the windows of the kitchen of a refugee shelter in Freital in September 2015. TVJ
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