Picture credit: Abdulhamid Hosbas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Artillery Row

Fined over facts?

Financial censorship is not the right way to confront the AfD

A member of Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has had her conviction for incitement to hatred upheld on appeal, after using official statistics to warn that Afghan immigrants are disproportionately liable to commit sexual violence against women and girls.  

The crime committed by Rotenburg AfD leader Marie-Thérèse Kaiser was to respond publicly to news that Afghan migrant workers would be relocated to Hamburg by citing figures which she claims show Afghani males are disproportionately involved in the perpetration of serious sexual offences in Germany.  

The original offence took place in August 2021, a few weeks before the country took to the ballot box for federal elections and state elections in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, when Kaiser wrote on social media: “Afghanistan refugees; Hamburg SPD mayor for ‘unbureaucratic’ admission; Welcoming culture for gang rape?” The 27-year-old politician went on to warn about the threat posed to women by “culturally alien masses”.

Her post was in reference to an interview with pro-migration Social Democratic Party politician and Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher, who had been campaigning for the rescue of Afghan local workers threatened by the Taliban, and announced that he would take in 200 Bundeswehr helpers in Hamburg. Tschentscher also boasted on social media about how Hamburg “was the first federal state to offer to immediately and unbureaucratically take in 200 rescued people.”

In 2023, there were 419,000 Afghans residing in Germany, 380,425 of whom were Afghan citizens. At the end of 2013, and seven years prior to the Taliban takeover of the country — the total number of Afghans in Germany stood at just under 67,000

Kaiser justified her concern about uncontrolled immigration by referring to a series of newspaper articles that cited official government statistics showing Afghans are disproportionately involved in the perpetration of sexual crimes in Germany.

Figures released by the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany (BKA) in 2022 revealed that a total of 677 gang rapes were recorded in 2021, up from 300 in 2018. Although non-German citizens comprise just 13.7 per cent of the country’s total population, they were suspects in exactly half of those cases.

Nationals from Turkey, Afghanistan, and Syria were the most commonly represented among alleged sexual offenders, according to the government, which cited figures from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany.

A separate report from the BKA earlier that same year also indicated that from 2009 to 2020 the proportion of non-German suspects in group sexual assault cases grew from 29.55 per cent to 41.18 per cent, while recorded cases of sexual assault jumped from 35 per cent to 50 per cent.

This used to be the sort of thing politicians on the left would relish. An opportunity for a fractious exchange over views they found distasteful, beyond the pale, egregious. A(nother) chance to grind their political foes into the dust. All part of the rough and tumble of democratic politics, they’d say, deftly feinting with a bombastic metaphor or two before then immediately throwing a huge overhand left of a counter statistic over the top of their interlocutor’s momentarily lowered guard. 

What we got instead, of course, is a protracted court case.  

In a first-instance judgment from June 2023, the Rotenburg District Court concluded that Kaiser had taken the information quoted in the text of the articles out of context, and any reasonable person would therefore perceive her post to be inciting hatred. 

Following that verdict, she was ordered to pay 100 “day fines” (a type of fine used under the country’s criminal code in which the fine for an offense is set according to the perpetrator’s financial circumstances and the nature of the offence), plus a fine of €60, totalling $6,000. In Germany, a person is considered to have a criminal record if they are sentenced to pay more than 90-day fines.

The AfD politician was defiant during the appeal process, writing on X before the most recent verdict: “Simply naming numbers, dates and facts is to be declared a criminal offense, just because the establishment does not want to face reality. I will not allow myself to be silenced,” she wrote.

However, at the Verden regional court in Lower Saxony earlier this week, Judge Halbfas confirmed the district court’s original judgment. Kaiser was also found guilty in the appeal hearing of inciting hatred against Afghan local workers. “Anyone who attacks human dignity cannot invoke freedom of expression,” Halbfas said. 

The case has sparked international attention, with major X accounts reacting to the news of the conviction, including X’s owner, Elon Musk, with at least two of the posts generating over 40 million views.

“Are you saying the penalty was imposed for repeating accurate government statistics? Was there anything wrong with what she said?’”, he asked, incredulously.

Reacting to an X post about Kaiser’s case by the Free Speech Union, Jordan Peterson responded: “Remember when the Venezuelan government made it illegal for physicians to report death by starvation? I do.”

One of the more remarkable aspects to Kaiser’s appeal hearing was her defence team’s attempt to call the SDP’s Nancy Faeser to the witness stand, on the basis that the Federal Interior Minister’s testimony would prove that increasing migration has led to more crimes.

Whatever else we can say about Ms Kaiser, she certainly has a sense of humour.

It’s also true that the data contained therein make for grim, deeply dispiriting reading

It’s true that last month Faeser was the minister who recently presented Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office’s annual crime statistics report. It’s also true that the data contained therein make for grim, deeply dispiriting reading: violent crime has climbed to its highest level since 2009, the number of foreign suspects of violent crimes has increased by 14.4 per cent compared to 2022, and the overwhelming majority of victims of all crimes, 75 per cent, are now German citizens.

Set against that, however, is the fact Faeser — “a 20-minute egg”, to borrow from P.G. Wodehouse, if ever there was — could hardly be described as an AfD fan girl.

Earlier this year, she announced a raft of measures she described as “instruments of rule of law to protect our democracy,” but that critics fear will chill free expression while serving the ulterior motive of reigning in the AfD’s growing popularity in the run up to next year’s German federal election.

One such measure is to freeze the bank accounts of those found to have donated money to any group the government declares to be “far-right.”

“No one who donates to a right-wing extremist party should remain undetected,” she explained, adding: “Those who mock the state must deal with a strong state.”

Faeser was worryingly vague as to how this politically motivated financial censorship will work in practice, whether Germany’s left-leaning tripartite coalition government will get to decide on that definition, and what penalties will be directed at those who donate to right-wing parties or organisations. Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Office of the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) would, she said, handle the specifics.

The minister also urged the German Bundestag to “pass the law quickly” in order to “combat hate on the internet … remove enemies of the constitution from public service [and] disarm right-wing extremists.” 

Sadly, we were denied the opportunity of watching an apoplectic Nancy Faeser force from between gritted teeth statistics that would undoubtedly have suited the case for the defence by Judge Halbfas, who ruled it was irrelevant for the appeal assessment whether posts formulated in an inciting manner referred to actual facts or not.

After the verdict, Kaiser announced her intention to appeal and expressed dismay over the verdict. “My trust in the German rule of law was once again severely shaken yesterday,” she said, “but all the letters give me courage and confidence.”

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