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Germany toughens penalties for using and sharing child porn

Germany on Wednesday agreed tougher punishments for using and sharing child pornography as part of a crackdown on child abuse following a series of shocking cases over the past 18 months.

Germany toughens penalties for using and sharing child porn
Photo: DPA

Under a draft law agreed by the German cabinet, the maximum prison sentence for offenders will be increased from 10 to 15 years.

Sharing child pornography will be punishable with up to 10 years in jail, while simply possessing it could land offenders up to five years.

Sharing child porn with paedophile networks or on a commercial basis will carry a sentence of up to 15 years.

READ ALSO: Germany to 'fast-track' stricter punishments for child sexual abuse

“Offenders fear nothing more than being discovered,” said Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, whose ministry drafted the law.

“We must therefore massively increase the pressure to prosecute, and the terrible injustice of these acts must also be reflected in the level of penalties.”

The draft law also bans sex dolls with a childlike appearance, introducing fines and jail sentences for anyone who owns, produces or distributes them.

Investigators will be given more power to tap  communications such as web chats, while tougher rules will also apply to those convicted for creating child pornography.

'Most heinous crimes imaginable'

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the law was “a milestone in the fight against the most heinous crimes imaginable”.

Germany has been shocked at the discovery of several serious cases of child sex abuse over the past 18 months.

In June, investigators said they are probing some 30,000 suspects as part of a probe into a “deeply disturbing” online paedophile network linked to the city of Bergisch Gladbach, in North Rhine-Westphalia state.

Those being investigated are suspected of sharing “child and youth pornographic content” including “fictitious and/or real acts of abuse” in anonymous online discussion forums and chat groups.

Just weeks earlier, 11 people were arrested on suspicion of sexually abusing children and filming their actions, after videos and photos were seized from the cellar of a 27-year-old man from the city of Münster, also in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Investigators said they had identified at least three victims, aged five, 10 and 12 years old.

The case triggered calls from politicians to crack down on those using and sharing child pornography.

In an earlier scandal in Lügde, 125 kilometres (80 miles) from Münster, several men abused children several hundred times at a campsite over a period of several years.

READ ALSO: Police 'failures' probed in 'largest child abuse scandal in Germany history'

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CRIME

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.

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