German court sentences xenophobes to seven and eight-year prison sentences for arson
Six men, including a member of the ultra-right National Democratic Party (Národnědemokratická strana - NPD), have been convicted by a court in Germany of committing arson against a building slated for use as an asylum-seekers' shelter in 2015. Politician Maik Schneider has received the longest sentence.
Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) reports that Schneider will spend eight years behind bars. The 29-year-old was convicted of committing arson in August 2015 against a gym that was to become a residential hotel for asylum-seekers in the town of Nauen near Berlin, and which completely burned down as a result of the attack.
Police estimated the damage caused at EUR 3.5 million. DPA reports that Schneider was also sentenced to an additional year and a half in prison for other crimes motivated by his ultra-right ideology.
An accomplice of Schneider's, who the DPA reports is a member of the neo-Nazi scene, was convicted by the court in Potsdam for contributing to the arson attack and sentenced to seven years behind bars. The other four defendants in the case were given suspended sentences of between eight months and two years in prison.
Schneider, a local politician, admitted during the trial that he set the building on fire. He then continued referred to the fire as an "accident", however.
The NPD member asserted that he had just wanted to make the sports hall sooty as an expression of his disagreement with the migration policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He rejected the characterization of his motivation as xenophobic.
According to the verdict, however, the court managed to unequivocally demonstrate that the perpetrators' crime was motivated by hatred of foreigners and their ultra- right opinions. The NPD is an extremist party that the German Constitutional Court recently ruled is unconstitutional.
That court decided not to ban the party because it assessed its influence as having abated to such a degree that it does not endanger the democratic order in the Germany. Since last year it has not been represented in any of the 16 state legislatures but does have a few hundred politicians in local governments.
The German Interior Ministry and German Justice Ministry recently agreed to elaborate a bill making it possible to prevent unconstitutional parties from receiving state subsidies. Last year, and especially the year before, German detectives recorded hundreds of attacks committed against residential hotels for asylum-seekers.
During 2015, when hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees arrived in the country, mainly by travelling the so-called "Balkan route", there were 1 031 such attacks, with 921 committed in 2016. Several dozen of those cases each year resulted in injuries.
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