Germany to crack down on online hate speech

With growing dangers from far-right extremist groups and torrents of threats against politicians, Germany is set to toughen online speech laws and tighten the screws on social networks.

Germany to crack down on online hate speech
Facebook and Twitter will quickly have to remove offending content as part of the new law. Photo: DPA

Ministers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government are expected to wave through a new package of measures on Wednesday, days after 12 men were arrested for planning deadly attacks on mosques, communicating in part via chat groups.

“In future, those who make threats or spread hate online will be prosecuted more toughly and more effectively,” Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said on her ministry's website.

READ ALSO: Germany to tighten hate speech and gun laws to target far right

One headline measure in the draft law will step up the pressure on social networking firms like Facebook and Twitter to quickly remove the offending content.

In future, the Silicon Valley giants will also have to report certain types of illegal posts to the federal police, who will be able to pass on actionable data to prosecutors.

'End up where they belong'

Covered under such rules would be neo-Nazi propaganda or plans to commit a terrorist attack.

But people approving of crimes, making death or rape threats or sharing child pornography images could also be caught in the widened net.

Social media platforms that refuse to cooperate will face fines of up to €50 million.

“Hate crimes will finally end up where they belong: before a court,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said.

On top of the new reporting processes, Berlin wants to toughen potential sentences, including up to three years in prison for online death or rape threats.

Especially in recent months, the spread of anti-Semitic messages online — including a bizarre screed written by the perpetrator of an attack targeting a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle in Octboer 2019 — has also grown.

The draft law would sharpen sentences still further for crimes arising from an anti-Semitic motive, which the justice ministry says have increased 40 percent since 2013.

But there are limits to the rules, leaving it up to the person affected to pursue cases of insult or libel.

In the most serious cases, such as terrorism or murder, network operators will be required to give up users' passwords to the authorities if ordered to by a judge — including if they are encrypted, a typical security measure.

“Extremists don't radicalize themselves out of nowhere,” justice minister Lambrecht said.

“Inhuman spreading of hate and threats online lower the thresholds” to violence, she added.

Ministers' plans have not gone unopposed in Germany, where debate is fierce between those who value online anonymity as a shield against the state and those who see unregulated online spaces as a threat.

Bullied out of office

Elsewhere in the draft law, the government aims to reinforce its ability to protect prominent personalities like politicians.

Threats and verbal or physical attacks have become more common against office holders, with 1,241 politically-motivated attacks targeting elected officials in 2019 and increasing numbers requiring police protection.

Some local politicians have in recent months given up their posts or said they will not stand for re-election following such threats.

In mid-January, bullet holes apparently inflicted by a pellet gun appeared overnight in the windows of an office belonging to Germany's only black MP, Karamba Diaby, provoking widespread outrage.

Politicians from across the spectrum declared solidarity with Diaby.

The apparent attack came months after regional politician Walter Lübcke, a vocal proponent of accepting refugees, was murdered outside his home last June.

READ ALSO: Political link suspected in German pro-migrant politician's murder

A neo-Nazi with a history of racially-motivated violent crimes is the prime suspect in the case.

In future, the authorities will be able to more easily protect personal data, including public registers, belonging to people in the public eye like politicians, journalists and activists.

Such individuals will be warned if someone else requests their personal information.

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Fugitive far-left militant wanted for decades arrested in Berlin

A German activist of the notorious far-left Red Army Faction (RAF) wanted for more than 30 years for attempted murder and other crimes has been arrested in Berlin, prosecutors said on Tuesday.

Fugitive far-left militant wanted for decades arrested in Berlin

Daniela Klette, 65, was part of a notorious fugitive trio from the RAF, which carried out bombings, kidnappings and killings in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

Klette was arrested on Monday, a spokesman for prosecutors in Verden said, without giving further details.

Along with fellow RAF members Ernst-Volker Staub and Burhard Garweg, Klette is being investigated by the prosecutors in Verden for attempted murder and various serious robberies between 1999 and 2016.

The trio are believed to have been financing their lives on the run through robberies on money transporters and supermarket cash heists.

They are suspected of being behind the failed robbery of a money transporter in 2016 near the northern city of Bremen, among other offences.

In that incident, masked attackers armed with AK-47 automatic rifles and grenade-launcher opened fire but fled without cash when security guards locked themselves inside the armoured vehicle, which was carrying about one million euros ($1.1 million).

Plane hijacking

The anti-capitalist RAF, also known as the Baader-Meinhof gang, emerged out of the radicalised fringe of the 1960s student protest movement.

READ ALSO: What Germany’s Red Army Faction can tell the world about terror

The group, which had links to Middle Eastern militant organisations, declared itself disbanded in 1998.

At the height of its notoriety in 1977, the group kidnapped one of Germany’s top industrialists after opening fire with a machine-gun on his Mercedes.

After ambushing Hanns-Martin Schleyer’s convoy, they held him hostage for six weeks as the West German state negotiated for his release.

On October 13th, four militants of the RAF-allied Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked Mallorca-Frankfurt flight LH 181, demanding the release of 11 RAF members.

During a five-day odyssey which included seven refuelling stops in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the cell’s leader, who called himself Captain Martyr Mahmud, shot dead the pilot, Juergen Schumann

German anti-terror commandos eventually stormed the Lufthansa jet in Somalia, shot its Palestinian hijackers and freed 90 hostages.

Schleyer, a former SS officer who became the head of Germany’s employers’ association, was then found dead in the boot of a car in eastern France.

‘Third generation’

Though the so-called German Autumn of 1977 marked the beginning of a long period of decline for the RAF, the group continued to operate for another two decades.

Staub, Garweg and Klette, alleged members of the RAF’s so-called “third generation” active during the 1980s and 1990s, are the chief suspects in a 1993 explosives attack against a prison under construction in Germany’s Hesse state.

Bombed RAF prison Hesse

An aerial photograph from March 28th, 1993 shows parts of the devastated prison building in Weiterstadt near Darmstadt. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | DB Jürgen Mahnke

In the attack, five RAF members climbed the prison walls, tied up and abducted the guards in a van, then returned to set off explosions that caused about €600,000 worth of property damage, according to German prosecutors.

Klette is also a suspect in two previous RAF operations.

Ten days ago, alarm was raised in Wuppertal when a man on a regional train was mistaken for Staub.

However, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, and he and Garweg remain on the run.

Although far-right extremism has been a bigger focus for Germany in recent years, far-left attacks have also continued to keep the authorities busy.

A court in Dresden in May sentenced a left-wing extremist woman to more than five years in jail for attacking neo-Nazis, with Germany’s interior minister warning against “vigilante justice”

The defendant, identified only as Lina E., and three other suspects were convicted of participating in a “criminal organisation” that carried out several assaults against right-wing extremists between 2018 and 2020.