Tensions rise in Germany over growing xenophobia and hate speech

Peaceful Assembly

On 16th October, supporters and opponents of the 'anti-Islamisation' and anti-migrant Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) movement assembled in Dresden to mark the group's second anniversary. A heavy police presence facilitated the protest by 5,000 people who came out to support the far-right group as well as those participating in counter protests. Pegida's anniversary march was set to take place the following day, but was blocked after city authorities organised a counter festival, 'Dresden, show yourself!' as part of an initiative to unite residents against the far-right movement. Despite high tensions, German police forces facilitated all protests without incident or violence. 

Pegida has continued to be controversial social force in Germany, with many seeing their formation and popularity as emblematic of hardening attitudes towards refugees and migrants in Europe. On 8th November, the founder of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann, was banned from leading the group's weekly rallies. His ban came after Bachmann led an unauthorised Pegida rally in Dresden on 2nd October, when the city hosted Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck for German Unity Day celebrations. Bachmann was previously found guilty of inciting hatred in May, after calling refugees "scum" and "cattle" on his Facebook page. The city of Dresden's spokeswoman, Karin Schulz, made clear that the decision to impose a ban had sound legal grounds and was not a political one.

On 22nd October, more than 60 organisations demonstrated in Munich's city centre against the planned integration law of the Bavarian state government. The new law requires migrants to respect the "dominant culture" of Bavaria. According to the police, some 1,800 people took part in the march to voice their opposition to the new law. Protesters included people from labour unions and political groups, as well as activists and refugees. Clashes between protesters and the police erupted after smoke grenades and paint bombs were thrown. According to the authorities 11 participants were arrested by the police, and many more injured. 

On 13th November, as many as 25,000 people from Germany's Kurdish and Alevish communities rallied in Cologne against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Protesters demonstrated in support of "democracy, peace and freedom" and against the sweeping purges that have been carried out by Turkish authorities since July 2016's failed coup. German security forces clashed with protesters after flares were ignited in the crowd. When police tried to prevent the use of flares, stones and other missiles were thrown at them. One policeman was injured and a protestor was detained.

Expression

On 1st November, Germany's Justice Minster, Heiko Maas, said that Facebook and Twitter have only months to improve their response to online hate speech in Germany. Failing this, they will face legal measures. Maas said that checks show that social networking sites have a patchy record of deleting posts that are considered illegal. Despite Germany being well known for its tough laws on hate speech and the incitement of racial hatred, many German citizens fear that social media companies are not taking responsibility for content posted on their sites. A two-month test conducted over the summer found that Facebook removed 46 per cent of posts flagged by users, while Twitter removed just 1 per cent. Maas stated that the checks will continue until March and added: 

'If it turns out that the removal rate remains so low, then we'll take legislative measures.'

Subsequently, on 4th November, reports emerged that Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and other senior executives from the social media company are being investigated in Germany for failing to ban hate speech on the platform. Prosecutors in Munich launched the legal action after a complaint brought by Chan-jo Jun, a lawyer based in Würzburg, accusing Facebook of tolerating hate speech, Holocaust denial and calls to murder or violence, by failing to remove offensive content on the social media site. The case continues. 

Association

On 27th October, the European Court of Human Rights unanimously declared as inadmissible a controversial case brought against the state by the far-right political group Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD). NPD claimed that its rights were being curtailed and its members discriminated against as a result of its right-wing political views. In particular, the party alleged that there had been a range of infringements of its legal rights in Germany, amounting to a de facto ban, and that it had had no means of addressing these. Other examples of alleged discrimination included the dismissal of its members from jobs in public service; the inability of the party to open bank accounts; and the prevention of its candidates from standing in elections. Judges in Strasbourg dismissed the case, concluding that the claims were unwarranted due to a variety of legal options at their disposal in Germany. 

On 10th November, the Hessian Finance Court in Kassel reaffirmed the non-profit status of anti-globalisation network Attac. In a previous ruling, the network had been deprived of its charity status between 2010 and 2012, on the basis that the network was too political. The court justified its decision by concluding that political actions were not opposed to the public interest, as long as Attac was pursuing its non-profit aims. In a recent interview, Attac board member Dirk Friedrichs stated: 

"This verdict is a victory for all of civil society."