German police raid homes of online haters in wake of political assassination
Deutsche-Presse Agentur (DPA) has reported that almost 40 apartments and houses all over Germany were searched earlier this month by police during an extensive raid targeting the dissemination of hate on the Internet. Police interrogated dozens of people on suspicion of calling for the commission of crimes, insulting foreign nationals and public officials, or spreading antisemitism.
Those accused face up to five years behind bars if convicted. The raid was conducted in 13 of the country's 16 states, with Hamburg, Saarland and Saxony not involved.
In the Darmstadt area, officers searched the apartment of a 67-year-old man who had denied online that another man whose roots lie abroad is even a human being. In the Koblenz area, police intervened against members of a Facebook group who posted comments like "incubator of evil" beneath photographs of a dark-skinned man and a pregnant white woman.
The Justice Ministers of each state also addressed the dissemination of hatred online at a meeting in Lübeck, northern Germany, calling on the Government in Berlin to institute stricter sanctions for hateful commentaries in the online environment. Hatred on the Internet has recently become a subject of debate again because of the violent death of Walter Lübcke, a high-ranking bureaucrat with the local administration in the central German state of Hessen.
Lübcke was shot dead and his body was found on the terrace of his home near Kassel. On 17 June, German media reported that a 45-year-old man with connections to the extreme-right scene had been taken into custody in association with the crime.
The politician had favored receiving refugees in Germany and in recent years had been the subject of constant attacks and threats on social media, which meant a police protection unit had even been assigned to him. He was found with a gunshot wound to the head.
The shooting apparently happened at close range during the early morning hours of 2 June. According to a police statement, DNA clues on the victim's clothes led them to the suspected perpetrator.
Germany was shocked not just by the politician's death, but also by the subsequent wave of hateful reactions to it on the Internet, including statements from the right-wing scene celebrating the assassination. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said those rushing to celebrate the death were "cynical, abominable, disgusting and repulsive in every respect."
Lübcke was a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and, just like her, had advocated for refugees coming to Germany. He drew attention in October 2015 by defending a plan to provide accommodation to newly-arriving immigrants.
Referencing Christian values was part of his argument for accommodating newcomers to Germany. "Any of you who do not support those values can leave this country at any time," he said to his critics.
"All Germans are free to leave," Lübcke declared. He received death threats after making that remark.
The man suspected of Lübcke's assassination was reportedly taken into custody on Saturday, 15 June, the same day Lübcke's memorial service was attended by his family, leading German politicians and many members of the public. According to the Federal Criminal Authority (BKA), police efforts to combat hateful commentaries online will begin to have a positive impact in reducing them.
While in 2017 detectives recorded almost 2 300 cases of hateful commentaries, last year there were just approximately 1 500 cases registered as illegal. More than two-thirds of the hateful online posts are being made in Germany by people who can be considered extreme right, with roughly 10 % of them made by people close to the extreme left, according to the BKA.
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