Protesters fined €200 for blocking neo-Nazi demo
Munich authorities have dished out fines of €200 each to dozens of demonstrators who peacefully blocked neo-Nazi rallies two years ago. Those fined told The Local they would not pay the penalty.
Among them is the former Green Party leader on Munich City Council, Siegfried Benker, who is furious at what he calls the "extraordinary meticulousness” of authorities.
"Of course I won't pay the fine," Benker told The Local. "It's absolutely not in the public interest."
The fines relate to two neo-Nazi rallies which took place in the city in 2012.
In January, anti-Nazi protesters blocked the path of a far-right demonstration at the Sendlinger Tor in the historic centre. No violence was reported but 20 of the protesters have since been issued with fines.
They were outraged the Pink Panther tune had been played at the rally just weeks after a video made by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror cell featuring the same song was made public.
The far-right group is thought to be responsible for the deaths of at least ten people and the trial of surviving member Beate Zschäpe is still ongoing.
"Just consider the timing,” Benker said. “It was only weeks after the NSU video came out. Playing that song was clearly an endorsement of the murders they committed.”
Benker was also part of a group of protesters who impeded the course of a mini-bus ferrying members of the far-right Citizens’ Initiative to Stop Immigrants (BIA) in the Westend area of the city in July of 2012. Eighteen protesters have been issued with fines.
Police did not intervene to stop the anti-Nazi demonstrators, but they collected photographic evidence at the demonstration which they later passed on to city authorities.
Those authorities then spent two years analyzing the footage, which they used to identify the protesters blocking the demonstrations.
"They engaged in relentless investigations to track us down," Benker said. "And we're talking about what was, undeniably, a peaceful protest."
According to Benker, local authorities had the option of dropping the case but chose instead to "focus disproportionately" on identifying the anti-Nazi protesters rather than neo-Nazis.
Munich authorities have defended their actions, claiming their investigation of the case was part of normal procedure.
The city council department responsible for issuing the fines said it was obliged to adopt a politically neutral stance and could not waive fines according to “personal conviction”.
However, its spokeswoman Daniela Schlegel told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that city authorities welcomed and encouraged anti-Nazi initiatives.
For Siegfried Benker that is a contradiction in terms. "This is going to discourage people from attending anti-Nazi protests," he told The Local.
The former Green Party councillor also claims that police in Munich crack own more heavily on left-wing demonstrators than their right-wing counterparts. "It's part of an outdated right/left wing schema," he said.
Benker, along with others have formally refused to pay up and have launched an official appeal against the penalty. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.