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Police seek virtual lynch mob in murder case

The Local · 31 Mar 2012, 12:44

Published: 31 Mar 2012 12:44 GMT+02:00

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"Those behind the calls for lynching must be made to feel the full force of the law," said Bernhard Witthaut, chairman of the GdP police union, the Die Welt newspaper reported on Friday.

It cannot be tolerated, he added, that "some users of social networks think they can revive Wild West methods in our democratic society."

A 17-year-old was arrested last week in the coastal town of Emden, and police let it be known he was their chief suspect.

But he was released on Friday after evidence ruled out any involvement in the murder of 11-year-old Lena whose body was found in a car park in the town centre on the evening of March 24th. She was buried in a private ceremony on Friday.

The suspect's arrest on Tuesday prompted an outcry in the town, and a crowd of angry citizens gathered in front of the police station.

News of the arrest also quickly spread on social networks, where users unleashed an outpouring of hate and calls for violence against the young man, whose name and address are reportedly common knowledge among local residents.

Now police have opened a case against an 18-year-old Facebook user believed to be responsible for the worst of the online threats, public prosecutor Bernard Südbeck told radio station NDR on Friday.

Berlin criminal lawyer Martin Heger said public messages on Facebook should be considered "public provocations."

“Public incitement to crime" is punishable under German law with fines and jail sentences, reported Die Welt.

Meanwhile, authorities are facing growing criticism over their handling of the case. Critics say they were too hasty in releasing a public appeal.

"Police and prosecutors have an interest in a rapid outcome to their investigation," conservative politician Hans-Peter Uhl told the regional Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper on Saturday.

Story continues below…

"That's why they're sometimes rather hasty and too often risk a public appeal too soon. We're seeing this happen more and more often," said Uhl, who is domestic affairs spokesman for the conservative Christian Social Union parliamentary faction.

dpa/The Local/jlb

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

16:15 March 31, 2012 by SockRayBlue
We have the same problem in the US. Perhaps cell telephones need to be ended and people get back to regular telephones. The collective news media seeems to offer up stories to foment problems for further "news reporting".
10:58 April 1, 2012 by wood artist

The interesting part of your comparison is that in Germany the "suspect" was arrested, and then cleared. In the US, the most recent killer is known but they simply won't arrest him. The social media system has forced enough information into the public eye that there's certainly valid questions about his "guilt." No arrest and no trial ultimately means no Justice. In Germany justice is at least trying, and it now sounds like they've found the "right person."

I agree that the first arrest prompted way too much response, and those actions need to be handled, but at least the German justice system is making the effort.

12:25 April 2, 2012 by Prufrock2010
¦quot;Public incitement to crime" is punishable under German law with fines and jail sentences, reported Die Welt.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon one's point of view, the same is not true in the US, where hate speech is constitutionally protected.

Wood Artist is correct that the case of George Zimmerman, the undisputed killer of black teenager Trayvon Martin, has been driven by social media. As a result, millions of people are aware of the case and are demanding that the shooter be arrested and stand trial. Without the enormous publicity generated by social media the police would have swept the killing under the rug, the killer would have remained unknown to the public and Trayvon Martin would be just another quickly forgotten statistic. While that case has generated a lot of heated and violent rhetoric on both ends of the political spectrum, most observers simply want to see due process satisfied before making a determination as to the killer's legal guilt or innocence. The power of social media cannot be underestimated. It also, as in the Emden case, has great potential for abuse.
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