Germany searches 100 suspects over political hate speech

Police searched and questioned more than 100 suspects in Germany on Tuesday over hate speech directed at politicians on social media during last year's election campaign, authorities said.

Online hate and Facebook
A teenage boy puts his head in hands with the home page of Facebook open on his laptop. Photo: picture alliance / Oliver Berg/dpa | Oliver Berg

The suspects were identified after investigators combed through more than 600 social media posts, according to federal police and the national internet crime hub ZIT in Frankfurt. 

They are accused of directly insulting politicians from all parties represented in the Bundestag parliament as well as spreading false information, including fake quotes, according to the authorities.

Two thirds of the politicians targeted were women.

The suspects were based in 13 of Germany’s 16 states including the capital Berlin, where police searched eight private addresses.

In Rhineland-Palatinate state, police found weapons, ammunition and other illegal objects on one of the suspects.

Germany introduced stronger penalties last year against hate speech directed at politicians after the murder of pro-migration politician Walter Lübcke by a neo-Nazi in 2019.

“Freedom of expression reaches its limits as soon as it comes to defamation, insults and threats,” said federal police chief Holger Muench.

The day of raids made it clear that “anyone who posts hate speech must expect the police to show up at their door”, he said.

Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann said posting hate speech on social media was “not a trivial offence” and he hoped the searches would deter others from posting such content.

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Germany players cover mouths in protest for World Cup photo

Germany's players covered their mouths for the team photo before their World Cup opener against Japan on Wednesday in protest at FIFA's refusal to allow rainbow-themed armbands.

Germany players cover mouths in protest for World Cup photo

Captains of seven European teams had planned to wear the anti-discrimination armbands during the tournament in Qatar as part of a campaign for diversity.

But they backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from football’s governing body, including yellow cards.

The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Germany’s football federation tweeted in English moments after the photo protest: “It wasn’t about making a political statement — human rights are non-negotiable.

“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser did wear the “OneLove” armband as she watched the game sitting next to FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

She said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake”.

READ ALSO: German sports minister to attend World Cup amid human rights row

Not only players, but fans should also be allowed to show pro-LGBTQ symbols “openly”, Faeser told reporters in Qatar.

Supporters should “make a decision for themselves” about whether they wanted to wear the symbols, Faeser added.

The German government spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said earlier in the day in Berlin that FIFA’s decision to bar captains from wearing the “OneLove” armbands was “very unfortunate”.

“The rights of LGBTQ people are non-negotiable,” Hebestreit said at a regular press conference.

Security staff at the World Cup have ordered spectators to remove items of clothing featuring rainbow logos.

Underlining tensions at the tournament over the issue, Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen said on Tuesday that he was “afraid” to talk about human rights. Vertonghen, speaking on the eve of Belgium’s opening game against Canada later Wednesday, said he did not feel comfortable.

“I’m afraid if I say something about this I might not be able to play tomorrow,” the defender said.

“It’s an experience I’ve never felt in football before. I feel controlled. I’m afraid to even say something about this.

“We’re just saying normal things about racism and discrimination and if you can’t even say things about it, that says it all.

“I want to appear on the pitch tomorrow, so I’ll leave it at that.”