Germany Violates the Freedom of Expression

Published: 1996-10-19

Several German researchers sit in prison or are on their way there. The mere printing of an indictment can make one punishable for "inciting the masses." For Denmark, this development in our southern neighbor, upon whom we depend in many ways, is a cause for concern.

If the reader believes that book burning belongs to the happily distant past, then he should think again. Unfortunately, he only needs to look to our large southern neighbor..

Now Germany is certainly not what anyone would call a less developed nation by any means. On the contrary, this nation has taken a leading role in almost every sphere of scholarship and science, and scientists and technologists of other countries have always profited from it with admiration and a thirst for knowledge.

But there seem to be good grounds for concern that German politicians have openly hinted that there is a problem with Freedom of Expression, and that there are some who have begun to use the courts as a medium for pushing through political verdicts.

In the last few months there have been several unsettling cases of such political justice with the aim of punishing and intimidating individuals and publishers from using their rights to free expression, the very same rights expressly guaranteed by the Basic Law of their country and by International conventions and accords.

In theory, the German Basic Law (Sec.5) allows anyone to express his or her opinion verbally, in writing, or by image, whether it be in art, science, of research. The limitations would be — as with us and elsewhere — only to limit expression that is offensive, injurious, or indecent. It must also give due regard to the right to privacy and to the general peace and order.

But in practice it is entirely different. What the German Basic Law gives with one hand, it tries to take back with the other. The Law, under Section 130, can punish someone with up to five years in prison for "stirring up hatred towards part of the population." It is not necessary to provide any evidence, scientific or otherwise, in any given instance, of any defined aim, or definite result, or to any measurable degree, how such hatred against part of the population had been brought about or was being attempted.

And that's the problem. It has reached the point where the public prosecutor simply has to say what is, and the judge has to be prepared to go from there. (The first judge who refused to play this game was forced to go into early retirement.)

Perhaps the reader believes that that can't be right? But it is unfortunately true, and several legal historians have pointed out, that we have here a modern example worthy to stand alongside the earlier witchcraft trials. Were someone first charged with being in league with the devil, he was seldom taken to the gallows or burned at the stake. The greatest of all crimes was to doubt or deny the existence of the devil. And once someone in present day Germany is charged with stirring up hatred against part of the population, it is not long until we get to bookburning and a prison cell.

A political order is now in force that a scientific critique of the established version of history is the same thing as stirring up hatred against part of the population. A corresponding politicizing of the Justice system in the realm of History is known in communist dictatorships and e.g., the Dominican Republic.

Germany has been seized by such an obsession, and this could very well become infectious, so that we in our country should be particularly on our guard. Tübingen has been for many years the home of a publisher of historical books and journals (Grabert). Its publications can be found here in all of the large scholarly libraries, and where that is not the case there is an obstacle for Danish historical research.

In 1994, Grabert published a large work "Foundations of Modern History — A Handbook for Controversial Questions of the 20th Century."

Luckily, the Royal Library in Copenhagen has a copy of this outstanding book, before the police seized the rest of the edition in Tübingen. The book was forbidden. Burned! In June of 1996, the publisher was assessed a fine of 30,000 DM, several of the contributors were fined or given suspended jail sentences of more than a year. One private individual was fined for having five copies of the book — before it was forbidden.

The expert witness for the Court himself, historian Dr. J. Hoffmann, said that he considered the book a meaningful and scholarly work. The public prosecutor, a woman, vehemently insisted, and without any foundation, that the book was a "pseudo-historical mishmash of the worst kind". With this perfidious judgment she seems to have completely overlooked the fact that the indictment was not for "writing pseudo-historical works" but for "stirring up hate." She thus seemed to indicate that it is more important to be politically correct, than to be scientifically correct. She thus exposed the fact that the prosecutorial authority in Germany is only a marionette, that the judicial power obeys the political power, just like in totalitarian countries.

Another grotesque verdict was reached in Weinheim on 21 June. In this case, Günter Deckert, a former high school teacher of English and French, was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment, to add to the two years he is currently serving. Earlier he had been sentenced to several years imprisonment for interpreting a lecture by the well known American gas chamber expert, Fred Leuchter. That trial was overturned on appeal, and caused an international sensation, when judge Rainer Orlet declared Deckert to be "an individual with a sense of responsibility and clear principles." (Then Chancellor Kohl and other politicians mixed in and exerted pressure, which cost the judge his seat.) And therefore in June of 1996 Deckert was again convicted.

The public prosecutor had sought four years imprisonment (they ended up with two years — and more indictments are on the way!) The indictment claimed that Deckert in 1990 (!) had accompanied the English historian David Irving to a lecture. Aside from that it claimed that Deckert, who operated a small bookstore, had disseminated several copies of "Foundations of Modern History", that is, before the court in June decided that it should be burned. Finally, it charged that Deckert — as publisher — had printed his earlier legal proceedings, specifically the indictments of the public prosecutor and related materials. And now Deckert has been charged by the public prosecutor, as a result of publishing his earlier indictments, with the crime of stirring up hate against part of the population. [...] And although there was no evidence that Deckert had done anything of the kind, he was severely punished. (And in confinement he has been denied access to the prison exercise yard, in defiance of all the rules, and as pure harassment.)

And Deckert is by no means alone. Several other German scholars are already in prison, or are on their way there. For example, there is the outstanding historian Udo Walendy in Vlotho.

The politicization of Justice in Germany is a fact. It has gotten to the point as it was when Danes could be punished for singing the "Vaterlandslied" south of the border. Crazy and absurd! When it gets to the point that there are certain sensitive topics (above all the so-called "Auschwitz Lie") that are prohibited, there should be deep concern that it can spread.

Judge Rainer Orlet was a deterring example. Political power forced him into early retirement. The public prosecutor must follow the political signals. It can calmly sweep scientific facts off the board. It can ignore its own expert witnesses if they have the audacity to say something politically incorrect. And the defense attorney also has a problem: if he pursues his case with too much zeal, he could find himself alongside his client in the dock.

It was therefore truly courageous for Deckert's attorney to state that in Germany today freedom of thought and freedom of expression exist only on paper.

I myself know many outstanding German scientists, tenured university professors, and excellent researchers who tremble and quake before this law.

That is the truth and that is bad. In many aspects Danish science and scholarship depend on Germany. Unfree science and scholarship — and unfree Justice — which serves political ends, is a pestilence, against which it is necessary to fight by all means.

The freedom which we here enjoy, and which allows us to think and express ourselves freely, was not given for no reason, nor is it a natural right. In this regard we should keep in mind that we have a German to thank for this, namely, the farseeing Johann Friedrich Struensee and his reform for the Freedom of the Press in 1770:

The impartial investigation of truth as well as the enlightenment of the mistakes and prejudices of the past are harmed and hindered if well meaning and ardent patriots are deterred or prevented from freely writing according to their conscience, convictions, or point of view by defamation, commands, or preconceived opinions; for these lead to the exposure of prejudices and bring abuses to light, and so there should be allowed in the kingdom and lands of the King a generally unlimited freedom of the press. (14.IX.1770)

It is necessary to keep fighting for free speech and free investigation. There are many, who, from a personal or political interest, who would like to have the freedom of opinion or expression suppressed. It our perfectly natural obligation to speak out against these efforts.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Christian Lindtner
Title: Germany Violates the Freedom of Expression
Sources: Information (Kopenhagen), 19./20.10.1996
Published: 1996-10-19
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 17, 1996, 7 p.m.
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